Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
Relevant documents: 28th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 25th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 13th Report from the Constitution Committee. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at beginning insert “Except for the European Qualifications (Health and Social Care Professions) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019/593),”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment excludes the European Qualifications (Health and Social Care Professions) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 from the sunset in Clause 1.
I apologise to the Committee for not being able to speak at Second Reading because of another commitment. I attended part of that debate and have read Hansard’s record of it. In this group, I particularly thank the General Medical Council and Food Standards Scotland, as well as many other organisations, for their excellent and helpful briefings.
It is worth noting that, in The Benefits of Brexit, published in January 2022 by this Government, they set out their principles for regulation, including:
“Recognising what works. We will thoroughly analyse our interventions based on the outcomes they produce in the real world and where regulation does not achieve its objectives or does so at unacceptable cost, we will ensure it is revised or removed.”
Like many other Peers, I echo concerns that the Bill contains severe risks to our democracy and laws and even to the role of Parliament. Once again, we have seen that the Bill gives widespread executive powers, and that has an impact for the amendments in this group. Department by department, the number of regulations continues to increase, as the debate at the end of the last group demonstrated, and I suspect it will increase again.
The three amendments in this group relate to health, but each covers completely different areas affected by the REUL Bill. This is because they are on the dashboard; it is all about what is and is not included on the dashboard, and, frankly, it appears to be universally confusing, including to government departments, which is worrying. So, if my questions to the Minister for all three are broadly similar, I suspect that that will be reflected by other noble Lords during the passage of the Bill. I hope that she will forgive me.
Amendment 3 looks at the European qualifications for health and social care professions, as amended by further regulations made in 2020. These govern the way that the UK recognises qualifications obtained in the EEA. As the General Medical Council—GMC—said, this is done in two distinct ways: via amendments that were made to our legislation and by four substantive provisions. The legislation route included a pathway to registration, known as the “relevant European qualification pathway”, which is a streamlined way for doctors with European qualifications to get registrations with us.
We on these Benches laid this probing amendment because of concerns about the scope. Before I come to that, I will make a brief comment on why it is vital that the Government get this right. Today’s Times front page says:
“NHS wants to double medical school places”.
This is because of the current shortfall in doctors—I note the past Government here as well. But training our own doctors does not happen overnight and, when there are shortages, we rely on doctors from overseas, including from the EEA. Getting that speedy recognition of equivalent qualifications right is absolutely vital. Only last month, the Government had to introduce changes to the pathway and process for the recognition of overseas dentists to be registered, as the General Dental Council was held back by the previous UK legislation, meaning that it took months and months to process an initial application. This is all at a time when there is a severe shortage of homegrown UK dentists.
In response to recent shortages, not least the number of EU doctors leaving the UK after Brexit, but also because our own trained doctors are leaving faster than their successors can be trained, this is particularly pertinent at the moment. In 2021, the Government increased medical school places by 1,500 to 9,000 a year and have boasted about it at the Dispatch Box ever since. However, last month the Government told universities to stop training so many doctors. We have a problem. If we do not have access to foreign doctors coming from overseas and the Government are seriously proposing to reduce the number of doctors under training, how will we manage to get ourselves out of the current NHS crisis?
That is the background. Returning to the legislation, the GMC says in its briefing that it is very worried that
“the Government may consider the standstill amendments which operate the REQ pathway as being in scope of the REUL Bill and seek to remove this pathway from the Medical Act at the end of the year.”
It goes on to say at point 9 in its briefing,
“We have exchanged with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to establish whether the standstill amendments fall within the scope of the REUL Bill and, if so, what this could mean for us and our pathway to registration for holders of EEA qualifications.”
It continues at point 10:
“DHSC have been unable to confirm the position but have intimated that the standstill amendments do fall in scope of the Bill and that an ongoing government review of these regulations will determine whether the Secretary of State grants an extension to the 2023 sunset deadline… This means that, without an explicit government extension granted, the amendments and the pathway would be removed at the end of this year—the Government think this would happen automatically.”
I come back: given the current pressures on the NHS, ending the arrangements for holders of EEA qualifications to register could lead to very severe outcomes for our NHS. I just remind your Lordships that the GMC received over 2,800 applications for registrations from doctors holding EEA or Swiss primary medical qualifications last year.
I think it is understood that the REUL Bill should have no effect on the amendments made to the Medical Act and other regulations but there are four provisions in the standstill regulations which have their own substantive effect as opposed to amending other provisions. Our understanding is that this Bill therefore presents a risk in relation to these provisions because they would be revoked at the end of 2023 unless action was taken to extend that deadline to preserve the effects of the provision.
My questions for the Minister are as follows. First, is what I have said correct that the standstill amendments are in scope, or not? If even the DHSC cannot work it out, there is a major problem.
Secondly, can the Minister confirm that amendments made to the Medical Act for the regulations will not be automatically repealed at the end of 2023? If the answer is, “No, they could be repealed”, what are the consequences? Would it be a perfect copy of these regulations or a new version to reflect this Government’s choices and views, which most Governments with a mandate would argue was entirely valid? We got to these by very wide consultation with stakeholders, including all the royal colleges, all the universities and, above all, the wider public. How does that fit into a scale between now and the end of the year, at a time when the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care can barely cope with yet another distraction? It cannot be done as a negative instrument just to move things through.
I turn now to Amendment 4 on food labelling, which
“excludes Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 from the sunset in Clause 1. The Regulation requires that packaged food and drink provides a product name and list of ingredients, including allergens.”
This is because the third recital of the regulation says:
“In order to achieve a high level of health protection for consumers and to guarantee their right to information, it should be ensured that consumers are appropriately informed as regards the food they consume. Consumers’ choices can be influenced by, inter alia, health, economic, environmental, social and ethical considerations.”
Regulations in relation to food labelling need to protect the public from the risks to health which may arise in connection with the consumption of food, to improve the extent to which members of public have diets which are conducive to good health, and to protect other interests to consumers in relation to food. It is much more than sticking a label on a product. Because of the global trade world we live in, many of the standards developed under EU law, on which we often led the way when we were in the EU, still need to maintain those international standards.
One of the great benefits of the regulation has been to provide a baseline of core information that is recognised by consumers all over Europe and frankly much further. I know this personally because I was diagnosed as a coeliac 50 years ago this year, and, until this regulation, which was supported by the UK Government and many organisations, I had to be able to find out exactly what was in food, whether it was in a shop, restaurant, cafeteria or even a hospital, because it was not always labelled. If I ate the wrong thing, the consequences could have been fairly serious. It also made international travel particularly trying at the best of times.
Now the situation is completely different—and that is the point: these regulations work. When they fail to work, as in the case when some people die as a result of eating allergens, there is now an accountability through the courts because the standards and regulations are well known. So without this regulation, and without the very careful and long-considered detail that sits behind it, consumers will have no confidence. Can the Minister confirm whether this regulation is planned for complete and thorough replacement before the end of the year, including the consultation with the many stakeholders on what you want to change and to keep? Or is the plan to let it sunset, or for parts of it to sunset, as with the previous amendment? In that case, where is the impact assessment for the consequences to vulnerable consumers and public health?
I turn now to Amendment 17 on the purchase of PPE. It refers to accepting EU regulation 2016/425
“on personal protective equipment and repealing Council Directive 89/686/EEC, and the Personal Protective Equipment (Enforcement) Regulations 2018”.
During the debate on Biocidal Products (Health and Safety) (Amendment) Regulations on 21 November last year, it emerged that the chemicals division of the Health and Safety Executive was struggling to manage the new certification process for chemicals since we left the EU, and, in essence, the instrument was asking for extra time. Ministers had decided that the UK would move straight away to its own certification for chemicals, despite the fact that very many organisations and companies were already certified under the old system and still trading with the EU.
As I have already said, the amendment to the regulation was to give the HSE more time to cope with the administrative burden, both for applicants and for the HSE. Worse, the HSE discovered too late that it could not have access to the EU chemicals database after we had left, because the Government had demanded a clean break. When I asked the Minister how the HSE was managing with its resources, he said that its chemicals division budget was now 40% higher and that this would be needed for the foreseeable future. So when we talk about impact assessment, it is not always just about the impact on the public. It can also be about the impact on government spending and business spending.
While the arrangements for the withdrawal Act were struggling to make progress, one of the key protective equipment regulations was updated. This is on the Government’s dashboard and website. Sections 9 and 10 talk about the pre and post 31 December 2024 arrangements and the regulation was updated again in 2018, taking the withdrawal Act into account. The problem is that it is not clear from this Bill whether the sunset clause can override this, because the Government have not explicitly set out their plans for any of the many thousands of regulations they have now found they wish to do that with. As was discussed in a previous group, that number is increasing on an almost daily basis. So I ask the Minister: for each piece of REUL that is on the dashboard, including this one, should Parliament assume that it will be revoked at the end of the year, unless the Government decide to keep it or to change it in a way no one knows about yet? If that is the case, when will the timetable for all these new, important regulations be published, with impact and cost assessments for having to comply with a different set of standards? I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to raise a point about Amendment 4. It relates to the interaction of this Bill with common frameworks. I believe—though I am open to correction—that EU regulation 1169/2011 is the foundation of a series of statutory instruments made by the United Kingdom Government, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, which all relate to what is called food labelling and compositional standards. That is one of the frameworks on the list of 32 which the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee has been scrutinising. My first question is: am I right that this regulation is part of this particular framework? If it is, it raises another question of great importance. What do the Government propose to do about legislation which is part of and built into a common framework?
The word “common” is used in the expression because these frameworks are common to the four Administrations that make up the United Kingdom. This is a method of creating an internal market which is a little more relaxed than that created by the internal market Act. The point is that all four Administrations consult each other about changes that may be needed and about the composition of the frameworks themselves.
I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the Government’s intention is simply to replace the regulation and the SIs that follow behind it so that they become part of assimilated law and lose their connection with EU law. I do not think that replacement would create problems, provided it is accurate. There is concern about Clause 15(3), which talks about alternative provision. If the proposal is to make alternative provision to any legislation which forms part of a common framework, to any extent or for whatever reason, it raises a question as to how it is to be done, while respecting the way in which the framework scheme operates. The essential part of the framework system is consultation between all four parties with a view to seeing whether there is a divergence, and, if there is, whether it can be accommodated by agreement between the parties? Where there is no divergence, one need do nothing about it—but it is all a matter of consultation.
I suppose my question is this: is it proposed to make any alternative provision in relation to this particular framework? If not, or if, as I said before, it is just a matter of replacing it, then I can see very little problem there. Any attempt to reform or make alternative provision raises a question of timing, which goes back to a point raised earlier today about whether the sunset is capable of being met. It is not just a matter of identifying the instruments and deciding what might be done about them; you have to have time to consult the devolved Administrations and secure their agreement. If there is disagreement, there needs to be time to go through a process for the resolution of disputes, which is built into the frameworks. It is a carefully designed system.
If the Government are proposing to maintain the common frameworks—I understood from the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, quite some time ago that that is their intention, which I very much welcome—then it raises questions as to how exactly that process will be handled. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on the points that she made, but this is a very specific issue. We will come back to the handling of common frameworks in later groups, but I raise it now because it is very much in point in relation to this specific regulation, which we will examine and see how this is going to be dealt with.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Brinton has done a fantastic job of explaining why these three amendments have been put forward. I was going to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, for stealing his clothes, but I feel less guilty now—he was here just now but has popped out.
I welcome the Minister to her seat; I do not know what she has done to deserve this slot, but I see that the Lord Privy Seal is here to make sure that she turned up. I think that she was here earlier when the noble Lord, Lord Davies, brought up Amendment 45, which would explicitly exempt the financial services industry from the effects of the sunset. I would have thought that, at a time when the health service is under the stress that it is and is stretching every sinew to try to deal with the situation that it finds itself in, this would be a sector to qualify for exemption. I suggest to the Minister that she might like to go back to colleagues and accept an amendment to Amendment 45, which will no doubt come from somewhere, that exempts health service regulations from the sunset arrangement. As we have pointed out, it seems that the precedent has been set by the Government, so let us look at worthy causes for exemption. If the health service is not top of that list, I would like to know what is. That is my modest suggestion to help the Government out on that particular issue. It does not make sense to call into question the qualifications of the doctors we actually have when we are trying to get so many more. Perhaps that is a solution.
My noble friend, in speaking to Amendment 4, mentioned REACH and the UK version of chemicals regulation. I probably should not point it out, but the issue of the non-portability of data was brought up repeatedly by many of us on the Floor of your Lordships’ House and so it should not have come as a surprise. The fact that it is now costing substantially more to do what we were doing anyway also should not be a surprise. It is a lesson that perhaps has not been learned but could be learned.
Amendment 4 relates to EU-derived laws that ensure the safety and standards of food in the UK. Removing them would pose a serious threat to consumers and undermine protections that prevent loss of life, as my noble friend so clearly illustrated. That is why we have put this particular regulation in this group of amendments and suggested it should be exempted from the sunset.
On PPE, I think the performance of PPE speaks for itself.
I would like to come back to the extremely apposite point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on frameworks. We will come back to it when we are talking about some of the devolution issues, and I hope he will be in his seat when we have those debates.
I should correct myself slightly; when I was talking about the interpretation of case law, I talked about British law, and of course it is not British law—it is English law and Scottish law. That is a further complication. How these changes are interpreted both in the English courts and the Scottish courts may not be the same. The noble and learned Lord was right to bring up frameworks, and I would like to extend the question I asked the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, about how case law is affected by this to include the divide that could occur between English and Scottish law.
That said, I am happy to support all of these amendments, each of which bears my name in some form or another. I hope that the Minister will give them due attention. These are really important issues that affect real people, every day, and we want to know if they are going to be retained as they are, amended or revoked.
I too welcome the Minister to her role. I knew her first as a very distinguished civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, so know that she will understand far better than I do what I am now going to touch on.
It seems to me that this Bill has flown under the radar so far, as far as public opinion is concerned. It came through the other place with very little public attention. I do not think many people realise how much of the statute book that is directly relevant to them is in play and will stay in play until some Minister has decided whether it is to be amended, replaced or die. When the public get to know that this is the case, I think they are going to react rather badly. I wonder about the politics of this, late in a Parliament, but that is not my business.
The issue arises first very clearly in relation to Amendment 4, and later in relation Amendment 20. Food safety is a real concern, right across public opinion. The idea that food labelling and safety rules could be in play will have considerable resonance, in a negative sense, across the country. When people were talking in an overexcited way about how we might have a free trade agreement with the United States, I was struck by the issues that really had public resonance, which were those concerning chlorinated chicken and the hormones in beef. As a member of the International Agreements Committee, I am struck that what is of most interest to the public in free trade agreements are food imports and whether their standards will be equivalent to ours.
I learn from the Consumers’ Association that 90% of our food law is retained EU law. Unless the Government accept amendments such as Amendments 4 and 20, in play will be a raft of legislation which is important to people. They take it seriously; they want to know what is in the food they are going to give the kids. It would be in the Government’s interest to look seriously at these amendments and at the sunset clause, which just does not work, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said earlier.
Particularly in relation to food safety, people think, “salus populi suprema lex”—I try that on the Minister because she is a great classical scholar—that is what they believe. Therefore, what the rest of us are doing now, along with singularly few on the Government Benches—
the boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled—
will have considerable resonance out there.
My Lords, I want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in intervening on this issue because this is the first consumer protection part of the Bill. I was once a consumer champion—I hope I continue to be so privately—and this amendment and many in the next group relate to food safety. The noble Lord is absolutely right: this is one of the most acutely difficult areas of consumer protection, and labelling in particular has caused a certain amount of controversy. But there is settled law here, and the bulk of it originates from Europe.
There are other areas of consumer law where UK law is better than EU law, but here, our scientists, our food industry and the Europeans have come up with an agreement which goes right across Europe. We have to remember that processed food and fresh food is a very well-traded commodity, probably the biggest trading commodity within the European continent, and we need some commonality. The threat of this being changed is surely a real difficulty for the food industry—although the Minister can answer that—and certainly for consumers. It is difficult enough to follow the labelling and consumer information currently required; if we have different labelling and requirements for things originating in France and in the UK—or for those originating in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland—we will have huge difficulties.
But there is something more behind this. When the Government presented the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, I think we all accepted that whether we liked Brexit or not, we would have to have a process whereby government looked at whether some of these laws continued. The real difficulty with this legislation is that it does not provide for a steady look at what the highest priority is for government to intervene on over the next few years, in order to see in a broader context whether we ought to change it. There is the threat that every single regulation and law mentioned in these amendments and in subsequent groups will end on 31 December this year without any replacement, whether with consideration or not.
We are on Clause 1, which deals with the sunset. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, has referred to the relatively sparsely populated Government Benches. I ask Ministers if during their lunch break they have taken note of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. If they are taken on board, that would reduce the anxiety here and in civil society about this approach. If the sunset clause disappears, and with it the threat of regulations entirely disappearing at the end of this year, we would give the Government credit for being able to make a proper assessment of whether those rules are needed.
Regarding the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, if we had an amendment to Clause 15 which, broadly speaking, said “no regression”, the level of anxiety would again be greatly relieved, at least in relation to some of the regulations we are talking about.
So I hope the Minister took the opportunity of the 50-minute adjournment to think about what his colleagues were saying, and that he will come back to us, either now or subsequently, with an assurance that there will not be the death of all these regulations as of 31 December, and that regression will not occur in relation to any of them, particularly those dealing with food labelling information and the protection of consumers whenever they go to the supermarket.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. The noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in the way she introduced them, have done a very good job of bringing these important issues to our attention. I want to make a couple of points that have not yet been made about this process. We have had a lot of discussion on process, as we do on Bills that are all about enabling rather than substance. That is inevitably what our debates end up focusing on; we use these issues as a prism to look through. It helps us to realise just how dreadful an approach the Government are choosing to adopt.
As we all said at Second Reading, I do not think anybody objects to the Government looking at retained EU law and asking Parliament to make changes to it. That is what Governments are there to do: to improve the law of the land. We respect this Government’s right to do that. We might not like it, but that is what they are there to do. However, we feel that to do it in this way is just wrong in principle, and the usefulness of these three amendments is that they make that point very well.
When I was looking at Amendment 3, I noticed that in February last year the Government presented an SI dealing with health professional qualifications. They said that it was needed because the measures concerned had been dealt with in a hurry as we left the EU. At that point, in that SI, the word “pharmacist” had been used instead of “dentist”. That is quite an error. I raise this for a couple of reasons. The first, obviously, is to demonstrate that the Government can and do change regulations arising from our exit from the EU as a matter of course. It is a perfectly normal thing for both Houses to do. I myself, and I am sure everybody else in the Chamber today, have had the great honour, privilege and delight of taking part in many SI debates. It is what we do. Even when things are not done in a crazy rush, trying to get hundreds or thousands of these done by Christmas, significant errors are made and things are put into the law of this country that were never intended to be there and should not be there. I also raise this because I wanted to highlight that however brilliant our civil servants are—as I think they are—and however diligent and hard-working they definitely are, errors are made by civil servants too. I am not someone who has described our Civil Service as “broken”, “lazy” or “bloated”, but government Ministers have, very recently; yet they are asking civil servants to undertake this Herculean process. There is a tension there.
Amendment 4 and the issue of food labelling is important; I am not surprised that that is what the majority of the contributions on this group have focused on. There are multiple examples of deaths occurring as a consequence of food labelling not being right. I am very supportive of an examination of our food labelling laws. I am very happy that this could be done by the UK Government—ideally in consultation, at the very least, with the devolved Administrations.
I noticed that the coroner for Avon recently called for robust allergen labelling following the death of Celia Marsh. Sadly, she died from a reaction to dairy after eating a sandwich which was incorrectly labelled. This is not an isolated case. I know that the Minister will be aware of that. The Government ought to be consulting, engaging and encouraging participation in the improvement of the current labelling rules. We would like to engage in and support this. There is an opportunity for us to do that now as the UK, and we would quite like to see that happen. However, that is not what this is doing.
The fact is that we are not really taking powers from the EU and giving them to this Parliament, because this Parliament will not get to take a meaningful part in this process. We will hear that again and again as we go through these debates. We are not just taking powers from Parliament and giving them to Ministers, which is what the Bill does. If we are completely honest, we are giving them to civil servants to do. Fine though our Ministers are, respect them as I do, and highly accomplished, talented and hard-working as they are no doubt, there is no way to make this number of decisions well in this timeframe, and to make them decisions of quality which endure and improve the situation for the people of our country. That cannot credibly be achieved through the mechanism suggested in this Bill. The Minister will be responsible for these decisions—I hope that she is happy about that; I certainly would not be—but the people undertaking them will be unelected, unaccountable and invisible. The Minister will have her name on some of the decisions, perhaps, but no one thinks that the Ministers will be handling 4,000 of these choices—though who knows where we will end up with this?—which are needed by the end of the year, and probably more.
Using a sunset clause such as this is completely extraordinary. I have tried to get the Government to use sunset clauses in the past when I have had brilliant ideas for amendments to Bills which they have not been enthusiastic about. I have thought, “I know: let’s put in a sunset clause, and it might make it easier for Ministers to swallow”, because usually you would use a sunset clause if you were doing something in a hurry. Maybe there is a crisis and you have to make some change there and then; you put in a sunset clause to reassure people that it is not a permanent change. You might use it to ensure some kind of post-legislative scrutiny—a very good thing that would be. However, with this, there will be minimal scrutiny, if any. Ministers may be able to alert Parliament to what they are doing if they themselves are alerted to what they are doing.
The Government have created this fast-moving conveyor belt with all these measures on it and Ministers are frantically grabbing what they can, if they spot it, keeping the power to revoke, retain, rewrite or whatever they want to do, but it is so risky and unnecessary. Because we are talking about these three amendments, I pose the question again, which my noble friend Lord Collins posed earlier in relation to workers’ rights. Intention here is everything. We want to know so we can then assess whether this Bill will enable the Government to deliver their intention, but we do not understand the intention of the Government. On these three issues—health and social care professions, food labelling, and personal protective equipment—will the Government retain these measures? Will they revoke these measures, or will there be some change done by the Government? That is all that we would like to know.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, I wonder whether she accepts my point about the common framework relating to food labelling and standards, because it does raise a different dimension. In that case, the UK Ministers do not have a free hand if the framework system is to survive. Every change has to be discussed, and preferably agreed, with the devolved Administrations. If there is disagreement, then that has to go through a resolution process, which may ultimately end up with the UK Minister. But it is quite a complicated process, which is designed to make sure that there can be some divergence, but an agreed divergence, across the Administrations, which is in the interests of everybody. So I wonder whether she accepts my point that this is another dimension which really has to be explored, and of course has a bearing on the sunset point.
I very much accept that. It might be that we want to discuss later in the Bill whether or not any of the issues that devolved Administrations have a view on, or have responsibility for, ought to be dealt with in a different way, because the devolved Administrations, as of today, are deeply concerned about the way that the Government are proceeding. So I very much agree with the noble Lord’s point.
My Lords, may I just respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman? She said that we just need to know whether the Government want to retain the protections in terms of health, PPE and food labelling, or whether they want to change it or reform it and so on, and that that is all we need to know. It is unbelievable to me that we are having that sort of discussion in this House, rather than requiring it to be very clearly specified in the Bill in relation to these incredibly important issues, and indeed the thousands of other important issues, exactly what the Government’s policies are in terms of retaining, reforming—and, if so, what reform—and the rest of it.
This takes me back to the comments from much earlier made by my noble friend Lord Wilson, when he said that this is lazy government and an unacceptable failure to prepare the policy for this Bill before bringing it. It has already gone through the House of Commons like a flash without any proper discussion. As he would say, there is a reason that we have democracy and the UK Parliament; it is in order for the British people to be consulted, to understand and to be able to anticipate and know what their Government are doing and why. So we are having these debates—as I said earlier, I do not want to repeat myself—but it just takes me back to asking what on earth we are doing, rather than saying, “Government, O Government, please take this Bill back; do the homework, prepare your policies in relation to this Bill and then set out your policies in the Bill; and let us see whether Parliament will pass it.”
What an extraordinarily old-fashioned way of looking at how to run a country. The idea that the Government Minister would be required to stand here, in front of your Lordships, and explain what the Government intend to do—I have never heard of such a thing.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, was absolutely right to say that this is lazy government. It is lazy, but the reason that the Minister is about to stand up and give some sort of platitudes or vague assurances is because the Government do not know what they want to do. We saw this with the Schools Bill and with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. I am sure we have seen it with many other Bills which I have not been quite so closely involved with, but this is a pattern—a pattern which I think the public have got ever so slightly wise to. I would sincerely advise the Minister, whom I hold in utmost respect, not to try to fob this Committee off with some kind of vague assurance. We do want specifics, and we do want to know what the Government are planning to do.
My Lords, it is actually a great pleasure to join this debate on this important Bill. There are four of us on the Front Bench to listen to concerns expressed today—weighty Front-Benchers. I very much believe in the rights of this House and our work to review legislation, which I have done with many noble Lords over the last 10 years.
I will not repeat everything that my noble friend Lord Callanan has said. But I would say that the sunset was introduced to incentivise departments to think boldly and constructively about their regulations and to remove unnecessary regulatory burdens. We should not forget this, while, of course, maintaining necessary protections. That includes food safety, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, explained so clearly. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, rightly pointed out that food moves across frontiers, which need to be taken into account, of course, in any review.
Of course, all protections will not disappear. That is not what we are debating. As the noble Baroness said, the Government are here to improve the law of the land and we need to avoid error.
I thank the Minister for giving way. She said that not all protections will fall away. Can she tell us which protections will fall away?
I said we would be maintaining the necessary protections. I was debating. People were saying that all protections would disappear; I wanted to make it clear that that was not the case. I am going to talk in a minute about the two or three areas raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fox.
The sunset clause, as we have said already, is not intended to restrict or influence decision-making. It will be for Ministers and devolved Governments to decide what action to take in their specific policy areas.
Even those of us who were remainers and who participated in discussions in the making of European regulations over many years were very frustrated by the bureaucracy and duplication of some regulations, and some of the compromises that we had to make were unwelcome. That was true for Governments over a long period; it was not only a matter of this Government’ concerns.
It is only right, in my view, that retained EU law is reviewed equally across all sectors of the economy and then, if necessary, reformed or preserved. To respond to one of the points made about carve-outs, we do not want to leave any area unreviewed. That includes financial services, but they are being reviewed in the context of another Bill that is going through the House at this time.
We think it is right to review all the areas, including health—
I am just curious. What decision process resulted in financial services being dealt with in a different way from everything else? It would help us if we could understand that.
As I said, we are determined to have a review and to make the changes that we can, and the two Bills are going through concurrently. A decision was taken—I think rightly—to take advantage of that process.
We are trying to understand why that is. What is different about financial services and food safety to warrant them being dealt with in such different ways?
I think our overriding concern is to make sure that all the areas are reviewed and that is behind this whole process, including the sunset. Let me move on, if I may, and make a bit of progress.
I hope the Minister will forgive me but before she moves on, I want to add to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. The Financial Services and Markets Bill is not only primary legislation but there has been consultation, proper scrutiny and so on, and listed in the schedule to the Bill are all the measures that are being removed. That is essentially what is being asked for by critics of this Bill. Please will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing with individual measures—the 4,000 or whatever?
We have a process for those measures. Obviously, there is a lot of retained EU law. We are going through it very carefully. Departments are doing that and are working out what should be preserved, what should be amended and where there is duplication. As I said, there is a case for change, and I think that has been accepted on the other Benches. In some cases, there is parallel legislation, such as the Environment Bill, which has brought in new powers.
If I might turn to Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I think she will be glad to hear that the European qualifications she refers to in the amendment do not, in fact, fall in scope of Clause 1. Therefore, this amendment is not necessary and, indeed, would have no effect. This is because the regulations concerned were made under domestic powers to come into force after the transition period and therefore do not fall within the definition of EU-derived subordinate legislation in scope of the sunset. The sunset captures only regulations made or operated immediately before the transition period for the purpose of implementing an EU obligation.
Turning to Amendment 4, I am sorry to hear about the noble Baroness’s coeliac condition. I remember developing special lines for coeliacs in my time at Tesco, which has been referenced earlier in the debate. We are in the process of reviewing retained EU law. The Government’s aim is to ensure that food law is fit for purpose and that the UK regulatory framework is appropriate for and tailored to the needs of UK consumers and businesses. A specific exemption for these regulations is not appropriate. The Government are in the process of analysing and assessing retained EU law to determine what should be preserved and what should be repealed or amended. That work will determine how we use the powers in the Bill. The UK has world-leading standards of food safety and quality, backed by a rigorous legislative framework. I know because I did the first Bill of this kind, the Food Safety Act 1990. It is only right that we should re-evaluate REUL to ensure that it continues to meet our needs.
I was asked about intention. The Government remain committed to promoting robust food standards nationally and internationally to protect consumer interests, facilitate international trade and ensure that consumers can have confidence in the food they buy.
I have followed this debate, although I have not yet spoken in it. I would just like to clarify something. Is my understanding correct that Defra, or indeed any other department, could apply to have its own date for sunset clauses? If that is the case, what is the mechanism that would be used in terms of legislation? Also, when the Minister refers to food standards, what is the role of the Food Standards Agency in England and Food Standards Scotland to maintain them, not just for food in this country but to ensure that imported foods meet those standards under the revised legislation?
I will try to answer my noble friend’s question. Defra has a programme looking at all this. It needs to decide what to preserve and what might need to be amended. I think the Bill has some scope for extension from 2023 into 2026. Perhaps I could now move on to Amendment 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.
Before the Minister moves to Amendment 17, Amendment 4 raises the issue of common frameworks. I can well understand the Government’s wish to have a fresh look at standards overall, but it is a massive task, and if the Government are adhering to the structure of the common frameworks, that cannot be done without consultation with the devolved Administrations. Are we dealing with common frameworks in the area that Amendment 4 is concerned with and, if so, how do the Government propose to handle it? Are they proposing to adhere to the mechanisms in the common frameworks? If so, can the Government assure us that they can achieve what is necessary before the sunset date?
I was going to respond at the end on common frameworks, partly to say what our hope is, and partly to say that this may well come up under future amendments on the Bill in the next few days. I wanted to be reassuring. Obviously, our ambition is that government departments and devolved government counterparts work together to agree their approaches to individual pieces of REUL. The delegated powers in Bill could then be used to preserve, extend, amend or repeal REUL as required via statutory instrument. Of course, as has been said, the devolved Administrations also have statutory instruments that they need to look at.
It is interesting to look at the expertise of the people who will be making these decisions. In the case that I referred to earlier, the coroner made some specific recommendations about food labelling and obligations to report anaphylaxis. Will things such as that be taken into account by civil servants when they are looking at what to recommend to Ministers in terms of revocation or rewriting?
Clearly, when civil servants are reviewing the body of law, they will look at individual points that have been raised, not least those that have been raised by this House. That is part of the process of review that takes place. I was seeking to explain that I do not think that REUL reform poses a threat to the common frameworks programme. Carving out retained EU law and the scope of common frameworks from the sunset would effectively remove a key driver of the very regulatory divergence that common frameworks are designed to manage, and which I think are improving matters. The devolved Governments would be able to make active decisions regarding their REUL and decide which REUL to preserve and assimilate or let sunset within their respective areas of competence. We will come back to this issue, no doubt, because I think there are some amendments in a later group. I am very happy to discuss these points further with the noble and learned Lord.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, I am sorry to keep popping up and down, but it is Committee and that is sort of what this is about anyway. I may have intervened at slightly the wrong point. She was trying to respond to a point about common frameworks, and my question was not really about that. She said in response that there would be an ability for this House to contribute to review and to bring to the Minister’s attention some of the important things we have discovered—from recommendations by a coroner in this case, but there will be many other points that are important too. I do not understand; I do not see how the Bill as proposed really does enable that to happen. She says it does, and I wonder whether she could explain a little bit more fully what she meant by that.
What I meant is that, when Bills are going through and noble Lords raise points, it is my experience, having done many Bills both as a civil servant and as a Minister, that these points are picked up and considered. Specific points were made, and I can certainly give an assurance that those points will be passed on to the departmental teams looking at the matters on food safety.
My Lords, coming in on that point—I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, for starting the process—and bearing in mind that the number of regulations and laws we are discussing today with respect to Clause 1 is a very small percentage of the 4,700 that the Government have on their list, how does the Minister suggest we raise some of the others that we have not put before your Lordships’ House as amendments? I am happy to come up with some more amendments if that is the best way of doing it. If it is not the best way, perhaps a forum—we could call it “Parliament”—could discuss it.
Let me reflect further with the lead Minister on this matter and come back. The point that I was making is that the suggestion that nobody is listened to is not right. We are listening and we are concerned to make sure that necessary protections are extended. That is the intention.
I just say to the noble Baroness on the issue of common frameworks and the devolved Administrations that your Lordships’ European Affairs Committee, in the form of our chair and two other members, went to Cardiff and Edinburgh to take evidence on a completely different matter. Both in Cardiff and in Edinburgh, we were told there was absolute dismay at the way they were not being told what was going on with REUL, and that there seemed to be an unwillingness to recognise that some of legislation had actually been devolved. They were just being told, “Well, it will have gone”. This is quite serious stuff, frankly. I am not expecting the Minister to answer this question now, but will she please say that intensified discussions will go on with the devolved Administrations about the implications of the Bill for them? Otherwise, there is a lot of trouble ahead—and these were not people from opposing parties; they were people from the Minister’s own party as well.
I find it difficult to answer that. My understanding is that there has been extensive dialogue with officials across all these portfolios, as noble Lords would expect: that is how government runs. In my areas of responsibility, which do not include food these days, there is extensive dialogue between departments, and that is very helpful. That has been the process here and will continue to be the process.
If there has been extensive dialogue between officials, and presumably organisations that advise the Government, such as Food Standards Scotland, why are they lobbying us about the defects of the Bill?
I have had correspondence with these bodies. Certainly, in my other work I deal with the Food Standards Agency. It is very helpful and it links with government. If I may, I think I will now move on.
My Lords, I have a really practical question. Many people around the Committee have expressed the view that Parliament should have proper scrutiny and accountability, but, even on the Government’s own terms, I genuinely do not understand at what point people in the real world get to hear whether the deadline for the sunset has been extended. When it comes to food labels or workers’ rights, I know that the Minister personally understands that manufacturing companies, for example, cannot just turn things around overnight; they have to know what they are doing. This has a real impact in the real world, so how much notice will we be given, if the Government press ahead on these terms, on whether there is going to be an extension of the sunset clause?
There is a process in place. The Minister explained earlier how it is working and that we will be giving more information, as we should. I was trying to reassure the Committee that, in advance of that, discussions are going on at official level, which I am sure will reassure people. There will be a process. Anything significant that needs to change will need to be the subject of a statutory instrument, which will come before the House in the normal way.
I am now going to move on to Amendment 17.
One of the more entertaining bits of the Minister’s elegant reply was the opening bit, in which she gave us a new rationale for the sunset clause: it was necessary in order to get obscurantist, idle civil servants to actually go through the statute book and decide which bits should go. Is this habit going to catch on? The next time we have a defence review, shall we start with a sunset clause that would remove frigates? I think the noble Lord, Lord West, would be particularly good in that discussion.
The point that matters is the one that has just been made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady. Out there, across the economy and in households—though households have not really noticed yet; they will be horrified when they do—economic operators do not know whether their relevant regulation is in play or not. They do not know how much of it falls under your definition of REUL. They do not know what you are going to do with it by definition. They do not even know what it is, because you still have not published a list of the regulation that is now in play, and you do not know how much there is. You do not know when you are going to be able to tell us how much it is or when you will publish a list which will enable economic operators to have reduced uncertainty. The question you have just been asked—when are we going to know what it is going to be?—is really important.
My Lords, I remind the noble Lord, who I listen to with great respect, that it is not the custom in this House to address remarks personally as “you” to an individual Minister who is trying to answer. You may certainly make charges—you have made many—against His Majesty’s Government but please let us not personalise our dialogue.
The rebuke is absolutely correct, and I withdraw my remarks. When I said “you” I meant the Government vicariously, but I may have elided from first referring to the Minister personally into talking about the Government. The Leader is quite right to stamp me down.
I hope that the Government will be able to tell us soon the answer to the question the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, has asked. The uncertainty across the country is what will do the most damage.
That is why we have published the dashboard and why we will improve it. It is why we want to get this Bill through, so that the SI process can start in good time for the end of the year. I should say that I know that government departments have been working on this process for a long time. When I was a Minister in the Brexit days, the process of considering what might be done for the future was already under consideration. A lot of thought has been given to this and we need to get on. I would encourage noble Lords to support that.
On Amendment 17, there is no need for a specific exception for regulations on PPE. On intent, we of course remain committed to protecting consumers from unsafe PPE and will continue to ensure that only safe and effective PPE products are being placed on the market now and in the future. Ministers will be using available legislative powers, including those within this Bill, to take the necessary steps ahead of the sunset date to ensure that we meet this commitment.
We have dwelt on this for a long time. I hope noble Lords will feel able to withdraw and not to press their amendments and move on to the next group.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and engaged directly with the Minister. It has been very helpful, not just to these three amendments but to the wider understanding of the Bill. I thank them for it.
I want to pick up the point about the common framework, because it reinforces the point around trying to do complex issues at speed—worse than that, complex issues that not just Parliament but even civil servants are not yet aware of. If more regulations are going to be put on to the dashboard, as the Minister responding to the last group before lunch said, we presumably expect more to emerge. One of the worries is the point at which the dashboard will freeze. Is it on 15 December or 30 December? What happens at that point to scrutiny?
My noble friend Lord Fox asked, only half in jest, whether we will have to go through every single regulation on the dashboard and lay amendments in order to get things discussed. We are doing that now at the end of February. If another 1,000 regulations are added in the middle of the summer, how on earth can we respond through the normal channels of Parliament and through scrutiny? I am really grateful to the Minister who, with her usual professionalism and concern, has tried to respond, but the core message that we have been getting all day in Committee is that there is no time to do this work before the sunset without really poor and unintended consequences.
I come back briefly to the issue of common frameworks. Fairly late on, during the passage of the Health and Care Bill—the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, may have been one of the signatories to the amendment I am thinking of—we laid an amendment that was supported throughout the House. We were told that, because of time, agreement had been premade with the three devolved nations and therefore we could not have the amendment because it affected the common framework. That is absolutely not democracy. My real concern is that time is galloping by and more and more regulations are emerging.
I want to respond to each of the points that the Minister made. On doctors, I hope that she will read the GMC briefing, particularly the comments I cited about the Department of Health and Social Care being unclear. Although she may be clear, civil servants in that department are not. As long as that is the case, it needs to be clarified.
On food labelling, I am grateful for the reference the Minister made to making sure that Defra picks up its side of this. However, the reason it is mentioned is because there is a fairly large health impact. On our reading of it, there are issues. I do not think she quite answered my specific question on whether the sunset is there for part of it or all of it, or whether all of it is all right.
The same is true for PPE. The specific question I asked was because of the complexity around whether the sunset can override the regulation that has been put in place. I got a different answer to the question, but this is at the core of misunderstandings and is why I made a point about impact assessments and costings when I spoke on each of these issues. Food Standards Scotland, the GMC and the BMA in all their briefings said that they did not find what the Government intend to do at all clear. For the GMC, that is very serious. It is a big regulatory body, and the people it regulates hold people’s lives in their hands; it is important that it understands.
It is not fair to expect the Minister to answer in too much detail on the specific regulations, but the general points have been made time and again. From the health perspective, I completely agree with my noble friend Lord Fox, at the very least because of the condition that our health service finds itself in at the moment. It is really important, and I beg the Minister to consider relaxing the sunset on all health issues, given everything else that the department and the NHS are living with at the moment. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at beginning insert “Except for the Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011 (S.I. 2011/1881),”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment excludes the Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011 from the sunset in Clause 1. The Regulations control the safety of toys in the UK and include provision for warning labels.
My Lords, I am greatly encouraged by the fact that the Minister believes that these debates on individual regulations are helpful—at least, that is what I heard her to say. This group, like the previous one, concerns a regulation that affects a large number of important product safety laws in the UK that have been fundamental to many consumers.
Amendment 5 deals with product safety laws in the toy industry. The industry has operated for many decades and has ensured, as the British Toy & Hobby Association says, that businesses bring safe toys and games to the market and protect British children who play with them. The BTHA itself has reviewed the retained EU law dashboard, and says that there are at least 40 pieces of law that affect the UK toy industry and relate to product safety. These include the Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011, which are the subject of Amendment 5.
This legislation sets out requirements for businesses to bring safe toys to the market, including things like restrictions on hazardous chemicals and requiring information in the form of markings and warnings to help consumers determine the age suitability of toys or for traceability purposes. I particularly note the age warning for toys for children under three years, which is designed to protect our most vulnerable consumers from hazards such as small parts that could cause choking.
The BTHA told noble Lords that toy safety is the number one priority for its members, and the existing toy safety laws relied upon in the UK today have been developed with the input and scrutiny of the UK toy industry and its toy safety expertise. There is absolutely no clamour for deregulation. In the UK, businesses rely on British standards to show compliance with the toy safety regulations. If the regulations are sunsetted, the current standards would become redundant in the UK, which could risk dangerous toys entering the UK market, undermining legitimate businesses and bringing potential harm to consumers.
There is scope for improvement in safety standards. Under current product safety legislation, online marketplaces are not accountable for the safety of products sold by third parties, which enables non-compliant and unsafe toys to be sold in the UK. In October 2021, the BTHA reported that nearly half of the toys it randomly purchased on online marketplaces could choke, strangle, burn, poison or electrocute children. It said that 224 of the 255 toys it inspected did not comply with British laws. A particular case study that it brought attention to involves magnets: Rebecca McCarthy, who was just 22 months old, was left critically injured after swallowing 14 magnets that were above the legal limit. The magnets had managed to burst through and rupture three parts of Rebecca’s intestines and had to be removed during surgery. Rebecca was lucky to be alive.
A recent report by the National Audit Office found that product safety regulation has not kept pace with trends in online commerce. It noted that online marketplaces were used by about nine in 10 adults, but they were
“not responsible for the safety of goods sold by third parties.”
Is deregulation in this space really being contemplated, or will we let online marketplaces injure our children?
On other forms of product safety, the General Product Safety Regulations 2005, which are the subject of Amendment 16, are also at risk of being sunsetted this year. Sunsetting these regulations will give rise to serious risks for consumers. In this respect, the Bill seems to conflict with the Government’s own policy. In January 2018, the Government established the Office for Product Safety and Standards, and, since then, it has consulted on the UK’s product safety framework. As with toys, this includes, for example, the opportunity to address online marketplaces’ lack of obligations to place only safe products on the market, in a similar way to how obligations apply to traditional retailers.
Which? has regularly found unsafe products offered for sale online, including Christmas tree lights that were a fire and safety hazard and baby carriers that posed a suffocation risk. Noble Lords and the Minister will no doubt have seen headlines about scammers exploiting the energy bill crisis with dangerous electrical goods. Today, Which? published an investigation into unsafe electrical heaters being sold on online marketplaces. Its findings demonstrate that the regulations need to be strengthened, not weakened, to make sure that online marketplaces are abiding by the law. But Clause 15 could prevent the OPSS from improving product safety regulations—particularly by extending the rules to cover online marketplaces—because the clause requires that any replacement regulations do not increase the net burdens on business. Similarly, with consumer protection regulations, there is a real risk that the Bill cuts across what the Government intend to do through the forthcoming digital markets, competition and consumer Bill.
We come on to food standards, around 90% of which is contained within EU retained law. This body of legislation—we had some discussion of it in the previous group—has built up over decades in order to provide appropriate protections in the light of lessons learned from various food scandals, most notably the BSE and horsemeat scares. Regulations also set out specific requirements in relation to risks from imports from other countries, and requirements for how food enforcement should be conducted. I am delighted that we will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, later in this group, as he is the real expert in this area.
The General Food Regulations 2004, for example, which are the subject of Amendment 20, set out a range of requirements that underpin our current food standards. This includes obligation on food and feed businesses, how they are defined, requirements for traceability so that products can be traced and recalled if necessary when there is a safety issue, and the approach to how products should be assessed for safety.
Also within EU retained law are fundamental requirements for food hygiene, including controls over meat safety and meat inspection. These are essential to prevent consumers becoming ill from eating food that is not fit for consumption, but also to facilitate trade in food. As Which? says, there are opportunities to improve and modernise food law and how it is applied. It is estimated that there are still 2 million cases of food-borne illness in the UK every year. Food safety law, which is just one element of the many types of food law, needs to be improved and strengthened.
The pandemic brought new business models and a greater focus on deliveries and online sales of food, which are inadequately addressed currently. Some aspects of food law, including how meat inspection is carried out, for example, should also be updated to reflect the types of risks that consumers are likely to face and factors such as climate change are more likely to spread.
As elsewhere, however, the current sunset clause will not allow enough time for a meaningful and evidence-based review of any changes now needed. What are the Government’s intentions? We have heard absolutely nothing in any detail this afternoon. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, the subject of Amendment 19, set out important protections, including a blacklist of banned trading practices, such as falsely stating a product will be available for only a limited time, and aggressive selling tactics. What are the Government’s intentions here? Are they willing to let those lapse in 10 and a half months’ time?
Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I have not covered all the product safety and consumer protection regulations in the amendments tabled by myself and my noble friend Lord Fox, notably related to cosmetic safety and hazardous substances and asbestos, nor all the many really vital other regulations on the relevant dashboard. But I hope the Minister gets the picture: this is a disastrous way of dealing with these vital regulations that could put consumers and children in particular at risk. Is this where a doctrinaire Tory Government have led us—to risk our safety to make an ideological point about UK sovereignty post Brexit? Will the Government wake up and change the sunsetting provisions so that we can move forward in a rational way?
As a minimum, in the face of these threats to existing vital regulations the Government should exempt them from sunsetting at an early stage. Can the Minister confirm that the OPSS will shortly publish the next steps in its plan to improve product safety regulations following its consultation; that the Government will not water down existing product safety and consumer protection regulations and, despite the requirements in Clause 15 to reduce any regulatory burden, that they will commit to improve them to reflect modern harms that consumers are likely to face, particularly the need to cover online marketplaces? Will he also confirm that the Government’s review of the UK product safety framework will not be sunsetted but will undergo the necessary consultation and additional scrutiny before any changes take place, and that the Government will be transparent about what regulations are being reviewed and which they plan to remove at the earliest possible point?
It is very clear at the moment that the Government do not have a clue about which regulations will actually be covered by the Bill. Which? has pointed out that the latest update to the REUL dashboard demonstrates that the Government have somehow missed some regulations, such as the Consumer Credit (Agreements) Regulations 2010 in their first trawl through retained EU laws—and there are many other examples in the updated dashboard. This really demonstrates the risk that other such regulations may not be identified before the sunset kicks in.
The lack of communication on what will happen to retained EU law across the board is creating not only massive uncertainty for businesses against an already tough economic backdrop, as we have heard, but real dangers for consumers and, in particular, for children. Does the Minister have answers to any of these questions? If not, why not?
My Lords, it has been a long day of debate and I will invite noble Lords to pause and think about tea—maybe the tea in the Peers’ Dining Room—and about one particular ingredient in their tea: milk. You may have milk in your drink or in the form of butter; you may even have a cream tea with clotted cream on your scone. Whichever of those you have, you make the assumption that the milk and the products derived from the milk are safe—and you are right to make that assumption. But it has not always been like that. Turning the clock back 90 years to the 1930s, an estimated 2,500 people a year in this country died of bovine tuberculosis, mostly contracted from drinking unpasteurised milk. Yet the Parliament of the time concluded that that risk did not justify introducing mandatory pasteurisation. It was not until 1949 that Dr Edith Summerskill, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Food, finally introduced the pasteurisation Bill. She said that pasteurisation had been prevented by “ignorance, prejudice and selfishness”.
Amendments 30, 39 and 146 are jointly in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, whom I thank. They are designed to prevent ignorance, prejudice and selfishness inadvertently or deliberately making our food less safe and of lower standard than we are used to. There is ignorance, because we do not know the precise number, nature and impact of the rules that are potentially being removed at the end of this year. There is prejudice, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, the plan to sunset is driven by ideology and not logic. There is selfishness, because ideology is trumping the protection of the public. As my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard said earlier, the reason our food is so safe today is a raft of legislation, 90% of which is derived from the EU. Without proper scrutiny and consideration, these protections could be lost.
Interestingly, the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, in a separate debate on food shortages earlier today, listed food safety as one of the three priorities for the Government. In light of that, I will quote what Professor Susan Jebb, the chair of the Food Standards Agency, said on 2 November last year:
“In the FSA, we are clear that we cannot simply sunset the laws on food safety and authenticity without a decline in UK food standards and a significant risk to public health”.
She also said that the FSA was facing “substantial headwinds” and “real challenges over resources” to scrutinise properly the more than 150 pieces of relevant legislation. According to the government department in charge of food safety and standards, the sunset clause is putting public health at risk. There is no point in the Minister trying to deny it, because that is what a government department is saying.
I declare my interests as in the register. As one of the leading retailers said to me yesterday, as soon as protections are lost, the criminals are keen to fill the gap. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who was also at one stage chair of the Food Standards Agency, will know as well as I do that the food industry is not totally clean. There are crooks around. This is starkly illustrated by what happened at Dover as a consequence of the lack of post-Brexit border controls. Last October, a 24-hour crackdown on imports from the EU at Dover revealed that 21 out of 22 lorries coming from eastern Europe contained a truly disgusting mixture of rotting raw meat kept at room temperature, mixed with products such as crisps, cheese and cake. This food was destined not for places where you or I shop but for cheap, independent outlets and markets where the most disadvantaged people in this country get their food.
My amendments take three approaches. Amendment 30 refers to the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. Amendment 39 carves out 14 regulations from the sunset clause. I also support Amendment 4, which we have already debated, and Amendments 20 and 38, which are similar or overlapping carve-out amendments. Amendment 146 in my name refers to the Food Safety Act 1990.
I will start with Amendment 30, which simply requires the Government to commit to abide by the Trade and Co-operation Agreement they signed with the European Union a little over two years ago. Surely that is not a big ask. I am sure that many noble Lords know the Trade and Co-operation Agreement off by heart. For those who may like a reminder, I will explain it very briefly. Chapter 3 of the TCA is entitled “Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures”, usually known as SPS for short. The term “sanitary and phytosanitary” may deserve explanation. Despite its name, it is not to do with the provision of bathroom appliances. The WTO puts it like this:
“How do you ensure that your country’s consumers are being supplied with food that is safe to eat —‘safe’ by the standards you consider appropriate? And at the same time, how can you ensure that strict health and safety regulations are not being used as an excuse for protecting domestic producers? …The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures sets out the basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards”.
The TCA that we signed with the European Union sets out seven objectives, which include protecting human, animal and plant life or health, enhancing co-operation between the parties in the fight against antimicrobial resistance et cetera, and enhanced co-operation with the relevant international organisations to develop international standards.
This simple amendment asks the Government to continue to adhere to that agreement, whatever it does with sunsetting in the Bill. I very much hope that the noble Baroness will confirm that the Government do intend to adhere to the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. If they do not, I will consider the counterfactual, which would in effect be saying, “I know we signed up in December 2020, but we’ve now changed our minds”. If the Minister cannot confirm that we will abide by the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, what does she think that the food industry, UK consumers and our EU neighbours will see as their response?
I turn to Amendment 39. It lists a series of EU-derived regulations that provide vital protections for food safety and consumer information. We have already discussed some of these, so I shall keep it very short. My list covers food additives, contaminants, health claims and nutritional information. The list is by no means comprehensive—as I have already said, there are more than 150 EU-derived regulations—but it makes the point. As we have heard in earlier debates, these are all things that consumers simply take for granted when they buy food. They would be shocked to hear that the Government might even consider ditching the protections provided by these regulations.
Amendment 146 takes a different approach. It aims to ensure that any changes to food law as a result of this Bill do not alter the protections provided by the Food Safety Act 1990. The Minister explained that she was involved in that Act, so she will be very well aware of what I am talking about. To summarise it, the Act covers all businesses involved in selling food; buying with a view to sell, as intermediates; supplying food; consigning or delivering it; and in preparing, presenting, labelling, storing, transporting, importing or exporting food. It makes it an offence for anyone to sell or process food for sale which is harmful to health.
The Act requires businesses to: ensure that nothing is added to, or removed from, food that could damage health; ensure that food is not treated or processed in any way that could cause damage to health; ensure that food served or sold to a consumer is of the nature, substance and quality that the consumer would expect; ensure that food is labelled correctly, and is not advertised or presented in a false or misleading way; ensure that good food hygiene practices are carried out; and ensure that proper food management systems—HACCP and so on—are in place and followed.
What I am therefore asking here, as with my Amendment 30 on the trade and co-operation agreement, is for the Government to confirm to us that, whatever happens as a result of the retained EU law Bill, they will not undermine the provisions of the Food Safety Act 1990. I look forward to the Minister confirming that she will not do anything that contradicts the obligations of this Government under the trade and co-operation agreement and the Food Safety Act 1990.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I agree with every point he has made; I want to be complementary, not repetitive.
Amendment 38 gives a short list of main points; at the time I tabled it, I was probably too busy to go through all the reference numbers. I am therefore pleased to support Amendments 30 and 39, which I have signed.
Unlike many of the amendments to the Bill that we have already discussed and will discuss, this group concerns products—products that we create in the UK, import into the UK and export from the UK. I can say with some confidence that, if we deviate from what has been put into UK retained EU law over which the UK has total control, we can forget my third point as we will not be exporting in the future. It is as simple as that.
I have no interests to declare, but I had two years at MAFF from 1997 and four years at the Food Standards Agency—well after the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. As I said at Second Reading, I am a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.
It is not easy to keep up with all the paperwork on this, but I looked at the European Commission notice to stakeholders on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from EU food law. The version I looked at was from 13 March 2020; I could not find a later one. That was of course just after—about a month—the UK became a third country. We are out; it is a simple as that. We have continued since then with our version of retained EU law. The subject areas are enormous—there are dozens of them, some of which we have touched on today: food labelling and information; identification marks; ingredients; composition; contaminants; residue limits; food contact materials, such as packaging, which is absolutely crucial; food production rules; food of animal origin, as opposed to of non-animal origin, for which there are quite separate rules; and irradiated food. More than a dozen other aspects are covered.
I will not go into detail because, to be honest, I am assuming that the Ministers have come with good will. I do not make any allegations against them today, but I shall want to know what they say about this before we look to what we do on Report. The Bill will be slightly different at the end of Report to what it is today.
UK deviation from our current UK-controlled law has to be out of the question if we are to maintain the competency and safety of food, and the multinational manufacture of food, because there is a lot of food still manufactured partly in this country, partly in Europe and partly back into this country. It has still got to be done. The export of food to the EU and non-EU nations is a very complex process. It is our largest manufacturing sector, so why would we be so stupid as to damage it? It needs constant checking, scrutiny and proportionate regulation and, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, touched upon, we need to keep organised crime out of the loop.
Our record in recent years has been good, but it was not always so. We gave the world BSE, and therefore the new variant CJD. Some 220 people died worldwide; 178 of those were in the UK and 28 in France. The last case in cattle was in 2021, and before that, in 2018. I remember I was at MAFF when we inherited this. The scientists told us the tail of BSE would be very, very long, and we have got a case here in 2021. New variant CJD is a terrible condition, and all patients die. The post-mortem instruments cannot be used again because they cannot be sterilised. That is what we were dealing with, and it is what we are still checking on today, to make sure the food is safe. It is crucial that the TSE regulation 999/2001 continues to operate because these are the BSE checks. Our meat exports were banned for more than a decade. Billions of pounds were lost in trade. I remember the day the ban was lifted because I had the privilege of helping to serve Northern Ireland beef to traders in Brussels—Northern Ireland got in quicker than the others and got the beef over there and cooked for traders.
Food safety is not a given.
“In the UK, five people every minute are made sick from eating contaminated food. There are more than 2.4 million foodborne disease related cases per year of which 15,500 receive hospital treatment and an estimated 160 deaths”,
which is equivalent to three a week. That is a quote from page 7 of Food You Can Trust: FSA Strategy 2022-2027, published last year. Last year was the first year that the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland published a large annual review of food standards across the UK, which was really a bonus. The reference documents, which are well worth reading, are HC229 or SG/2022/34, called Our Food 2021. Time permits only a couple of mentions of the key findings from both food standard agencies:
“The evidence set out in this report suggests that overall food safety standards have largely been maintained during 2021. However, this is a cautious conclusion. The pandemic disrupted regular inspections, sampling and audits across the food system … both organisations recognise there are significant risks ahead. The report highlights two particular areas of concern. Firstly there has been a fall in the level of local authority inspections”
of the more than half a million food businesses. Furthermore,
“progress is being constrained by resource and the availability of qualified professionals”
such as environmental health practitioners. In the Times on Monday, Jenni Russell mentioned that
“Local authorities had cut their sampling for food … by more than half”.
The second concern from the joint FSA-FSS report is
“in relation to the import of food from the EU. To enhance levels of assurance on higher-risk EU food like meat, dairy and eggs, and food and feed that has come to the UK via the EU, it is essential that improved controls are put in place to the timescale that the UK Government has set out (end 2023).”
We are not checking anything; we were supposed to be checking it to the end of last year, and the Government moved the deadline. We took the view, “Well, the EU has got really good systems; we don’t need to check what comes from them, so we can save money at the ports.” How arrogant can you be? It is a pity the noble Lord, Lord Frost, is not here, because this is the kind of thing I level at people that did the sort of job he did.
The report continues:
“The longer the UK operates without assurance from the exporting country that products meet the UK’s high food and feed safety standards, the less confident we”—
the two food standards agencies—
“can be that we can effectively identify … safety incidents.”
These two concerns need answers from Ministers about cutting the regulations.
I have two final points on this important report. Somewhere there is an amendment, although I cannot remember where, calling for this joint report, which is voluntary, to be put on a statutory basis. Regarding the impact of our EU exit on policy-making, the report said that because of the retained EU law policy
“in Great Britain, there have … been few immediate regulatory changes affecting food standards.”
Here is the key sentence:
“The focus across all four nations has been on maintaining continuity and providing clarity for businesses and consumers on processes and expectations.”
Clarity for businesses and consumers is what we need to maintain; if we do not, we are sunk.
It is reassuring that so far, the two bodies have seen
“no evidence of significant exploitation by criminals.”
But in 2021:
“There were 100 successful ‘disruptions’ of criminal activity within the food chain reported by the UK’s two food crime units”,
one covering the Food Standards Agency, and the other covering Food Standards Scotland. One hundred successful disruptions of criminal activity.
The status quo is not perfect, and any change has to be controlled and not be a surprise, but given the cuts to those that protect the system, we are vulnerable. The status quo is a bit of a worry. According to the document The UK’s Enforcement Gap, produced by Unchecked UK for the decade 2009-19, meat hygiene inspectors were cut by 53%, local authority food standards staff were cut by 60%, inspection of eggs was cut by 23%, UK food laboratories were cut from 17 to 9, and local authority food sampling was cut by 59%. We have an enforcement gap recognised by the National Audit Office, which in June 2019 said that local authorities were failing to meet their legal responsibilities to ensure that food business operators complied with the law.
Compared to the 1980s and the early 1990s, we have a large and sustained increase in confidence in food; there is no question about that. There were real problems in the 1980s and 1990s, and I experienced them: I was completely unprepared to be sent to MAFF in 1997. There was a serious problem regarding how to restore confidence in food, and gradually, over the years, through the Food Standards Agency—there is a separate one for Scotland, which it is quite entitled to have—there has been a big increase in confidence in food. Ministers have kept their sticky fingers away from the food safety levers of power, but according to this they are about to put them all over these regulations. That is clearly the implication.
So, we have had a big increase in confidence in food, and it is our biggest manufacturing industry. Why put that at risk by not accepting these amendments to remove food-related regulations from the Bill? It is simple, really. That is quite easy for Ministers to say. The Minister who is going to reply is probably more experienced than most. Having been a senior official in MAFF in the 1990s, she is fully aware of what I have said about BSE and the difficulties—oh, the noble Baroness is shaking her head; another Minister will reply. Well, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who replied to the previous group, is fully experienced in the situation with BSE. One half of MAFF was arguing with the other half. One half was protecting consumers; the other was pushing for producers. That was the dilemma, which is why today we have independent bodies such as the Food Standards Agency to deal with those two groups across the UK. It does not make sense for the Government to give the impression—because they have not said anything—that they are going to tear up and remove some of these protections or cut corners in the interests of production.
The simple fact of the matter is this: if there is any threat at all, we know what will happen—we will have another beef ban or a dairy ban. It is self-evident what will happen. People will say, “You can’t trust the Brits. They did it before in the 1990s; now they’re moving back again”. Why put our industry, the jobs and the confidence at risk when this could be solved easily today? Even a letter after today could solve this by the end of Committee, rather than having to deal with it on Report. I am not raising the doubts; I am just spelling out some of the facts about what Ministers who tried to deal with these issues have experienced. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has given the scientific views on this. The fact of the matter is that there is enough evidence for Ministers to take action now, go back to the department and say, “Take out all the food safety connected stuff”, because we cannot afford to lose confidence in our food production system.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Rooker. I really commend his sentiment of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, although I probably disagree with the methodology he would use. The amendment in my name excludes the legislation governing pesticides from the sunset in Clause 1. These regulations are vital, as are the food standards regulations. They provide protection for biodiversity and human health, and they help to support the UK’s food safety and agricultural sustainability processes.
I say at the outset that I do not actually believe that a series of exemptions from the sunset clause fixes the Bill. It is a bonkers process to take an as yet unsized task and set an arbitrary, hard deadline before you know what the size of it is. That was the sort of thing I remember being taught in day one of management school never to do, but we seem to be at that point. The reality of the Bill is that it needs much more radical surgery, and pesticides are one of the examples I want to give of the sort of radical surgery it really needs.
I have tabled this amendment for three reasons. The first is to illustrate how important pesticides are. This is an area where protections are vital, and the Bill jeopardises those. Again, the pesticide issue is just one example of many that other noble Lords have given of the recklessness of the Bill, with its commitment, in my view, to feeding the out-of-control European Research Group, swivel-eyed end of the Conservative Party, irrespective of the impact on the public and environmental safety and to the exclusion of all other drivers. Secondly, pesticides are only one example out of the 1,781 pieces of legislation that Defra has to review before December. Thirdly, I want to touch briefly on how fundamentally rotten the Bill is, with its power grab in favour of the Executive and against Parliament and the interests of the people of this country.
Let me dwell briefly on the pesticides issue. Over the 10-year period from 2000, big strides were made, often significantly led by the UK in Europe, which brought into European law a suite of pesticides legislation that protected human health and biodiversity from harmful exposures to pesticides and ensured that horticultural and agricultural practices reduced their impact on people, animals and biodiversity.
They were vital protections. In the area of pesticides, virtually all our law is European law. The Bill would put all this at risk of being deliberately watered down or accidentally binned. The EU legislation was crafted with significant input from experts, including UK experts, and after wide consultation with organisations representing human and animal health and safety interests and environmental interests. We were in there. Following committee examinations in the European Parliament and parliamentary processes involving MEPs, the legislation was approved by the Council of Ministers, on which we had Ministers. Therefore, we cannot really say that these regulations have been produced by a process that we did not have much control over, because that sounds like scrutiny and political involvement to me. Defra has 1,781 of these to review before December, so in all likelihood that level of scrutiny, consultation and expert advice, to that depth, will be pretty impossible before then, bearing in mind the volume of these regulations.
Going back to the importance of pesticides, they are not called biocides for nothing. The clue is in the title. They are designed to kill life. They can be used safely only with specific safeguards. When I wrote this, I said that this risks Ministers tampering, without let or hindrance, but the “sticky fingers” analogy, from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is probably a good one. Secondary legislation is not enough to say that Ministers have got let or hindrance because we all know about the inadequacy of the statutory instrument process.
Additionally, the review process that is under way is a regressive one. Even if it were to find that there is a need for improvement, it cannot do that due to the requirement in the Bill to avoid increasing the regulatory burden. Whatever emerges from the review is almost certain to be limper than what existed before. Apart from workload issues, in terms of the review to meet the deadline, Ministers have not shown themselves to be terrifically trustworthy on pesticides when left to their own devices. Last year, the use of neonicotinoids was approved when all the member states of Europe had banned them—we had gone along with that ban many years ago—in a move which was against the advice of the new pesticides regulator, the Health and Safety Executive. At a time when we are all concerned about the reduction in pollinators that we rely on to secure our food and our biodiversity, Defra approves a biocide that kills bees in droves and has been banned since 2007 due to the impact on human health. Your Lordships can see why I am a little doubtful on trust.
This is also the Defra that in 2018 promised an action plan on pesticides. Five years to 2023 does not sound like a lot of action to me. We are still waiting for that action plan. There has been no plan for increasing the capacity here within the UK to replace that loss of expert EU bodies and the depth of their expert advice. The UK Expert Committee on Pesticides, based here, is purely advisory. Ministers make the final decision. That does not fill me with confidence that this review process will be well handled against huge workloads and a hard deadline. And if your Lordships think that Defra is up against it, try Northern Ireland, which has to go through the same process, with the same volume of legislation, with no Assembly in place, no Ministers in place, and no means of passing any of the secondary legislation. On the basis of the Northern Ireland discussions, this looks set to continue for weeks, if not months, to come. Northern Ireland also has the added attraction of standing with a leg on each of two circus horses, the UK and the EU, that are increasingly diverging in standards and policy.
It is highly likely that the changes to the pesticides and other regimes could break the law. There has already been reference to the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which we signed and which commits:
“A Party shall not weaken or reduce, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the Parties, its environmental levels of protection or its climate level of protection below the levels that are in place at the end of the transition period”.
Diminishing the standards in pesticide protection in any way would break that agreement, in my view, but of course I have forgotten that this Government appear not to care too much about agreements with the EU.
Many noble Lords have said that businesses are not happy about the review process. Businesses constantly tell us—when I was chief executive of the Environment Agency, they told me at breakfast, lunch and dinner—that what they need from a regulator and from regulation is certainty, long lead times and consultation. This review process provides none of these.
I am sure that the Minister—I do love trying to get into the Minister’s head; it is the sort of thing that you do of a weekend—will say that he understands that Defra is already well-advanced with all these reviews. I understand that Defra has buckets; there is one big bucket for legislation that is going to be dumped as of December 2023. There is one small one, probably justifiably small, for regulations that will pass through unamended—if I can say this; I think that in terms of Defra this is a totally valid analogy—like shit off a shovel. But there is another big bucket, which is the bucket where the regulations for review sit. That is still a big bucket, despite many Defra regulations being shed. So the plea I would make to the Minister is that I think that this process—rather than the Bill, which I think is fatally flawed—would be hugely helped if Defra would show us its buckets. Show us your buckets. What is in each, and what is the process for the remaining reviews on those buckets where review is required? It might reassure us; it might not. But it will at least allow parliamentary discussion, public discussion, business discussion and expert discussion on whether the process is going well and how big a mountain we have to climb.
I make no apologies for banging on about pesticide safety, but it is only one example of the risks of this Bill. One down, only another 4,000 to go. I am not going to go into lyrical raptures denouncing the basic unconstitutional nature of the Bill, handing powers to Ministers to act without real let or hindrance, not just this year but until 2026 with the capacity to extend the sunset, and also for ever for that legion of direct EU law which will now be regarded as secondary legislation and therefore be amendable without any real ability of Parliament to make a difference.
I am not a remoaner; I am not against proper review of EU retained and direct law, but I just do not think that this Bill is the proper way to do it. I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, is smiling—I am definitely not a remoaner. As a very minimum, the Government should remove the sunset. If it was intended to spur on government departments and civil servants to bring out their EU legislation, it has had that effect. It is entirely risky to commit to an end date for a complex process of review, complicated by issues of devolution, particularly in Northern Ireland. The commitment to review all of the legislation at the same time to a very tight deadline breaks every management and good governance rule. The Government should be bringing lists of what legislation is in what bucket, for consultation by Parliament and to allow Parliament to debate these before any revocation or revision is then processed through a proper parliamentary process.
Clause 15, the regulatory burden clause, should be removed, to allow legitimate review to come forward with proper improvement, if necessary, that would allow debate here on whether that is undue regulatory burden. You could either say that that is an amended law or say, “Let’s go back to the drawing board and start again”. I do not mind particularly, but it means that we need to do something more radical than simply having exemptions from the sunset clause.
I know the noble Lord will say what he has said to me twice now: that the example Defra can give is the Habitats Regulations being amended by the Environment Act, which we have now passed, and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill which is now in your Lordships’ House. The reality is that nobody has ever done the read across from that suite of environmental law that these two Bills are allegedly supposed to replace. It would be good for it to be flagged when the House is talking about legislation that is intended to replace European law, because quite a lot of us were assuming the Environment Act was alongside environmental law. It would also be good to get that read across or map across of what is being brought over and what is not, before we agree any further legislation that claims to remove the need for environmental legislation under EU retained law. There is the solution; I hope the Minister is minded to change.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for introducing this group of amendments. I particularly associate myself with the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for the simple reason that having confidence in our food is essential to the food and farming sector.
I spent five years in the other place chairing the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and perhaps one of the most difficult inquiries we had was that into the horsemeat scenario. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in speaking to the amendments before us, Amendments 30, 39 and 146 in particular, it could so easily have been not just a fraud and a scare but another food scandal. Humans could have been infected. I suppose it was a blessing that it was just one type of meat being passed off for a much more expensive type of meat.
I pay tribute to the work the Government did at that time in setting up the independent inquiry led by Professor Chris Elliott and its work to review Britain’s food system. Amendment 30 goes to the heart of the matter. I am not entirely convinced that the food checks we agreed to in the TCA are in place. We were told they are going to be introduced and I have discussed this with the Food Standards Agency; they are meant to be introduced completely this year.
Also this year, we are introducing unitary government in North Yorkshire so are merging the two key departments that look at this—environmental health and another department, the name of which will come back to me. I think the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was right about the few local authorities that are actually conducting tests into the safety of our food, and whether the food is what it says on the label and is not a fraud.
Amendment 39, while it perhaps does not cover every single scenario as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, goes some way to expressing why it is vital that the European regulations provide the food safety and hygiene to which we have signed up.
In summing up this debate, I hope my noble friend puts our minds at rest as to what that procedure is going to be and gives us an assurance that the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Krebs, have sought in this small group of amendments that those tests, which have stood the test of time, will continue to be place.
One of the recommendations—I do not know if it was implemented—from the report that looked into the horsemeat fraud in 2013 was that major retailers, and I think my noble friend did work for Tesco for a time, should conduct their own tests on a mandatory basis, not just the voluntary basis as it apparently is at the moment. I hope my noble friend updates us on the Government’s thinking in that regard.
My preference would be that phytosanitary checks take place at our borders. That is what we signed up to, and the food industry hopes that the Government can show that imported food meets the same tests and is as safe to eat as domestic food produced under our very high standards. In addition to them, regular checks should obviously be conducted. I do not know whether my noble friend has an update in response to the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on how many local authorities are actually doing checks that we require of them at this time. Is my noble friend convinced that they have the manpower and funding resources to ensure that this remains a priority? With those few remarks I lend my support to, in particular, Amendments 30, 39 and 146.
My Lords, I sat through the entirety of the Second Reading debate—I missed only one speaker—and I have sat through today’s Committee, just missing, alas, about five minutes at the beginning of the session after lunch. I have been in receipt, as I am sure most noble Lords have been, of very strong criticism from those outside the House. For example, I had a briefing from Prospect which is central to the matters of this Bill because it covers inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive. It describes this Bill as “reckless, unworkable and undemocratic”. Without reading the reports, there has been severe criticism from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.
This has sorrowed me. I am sorry for the Government and am particularly sorry for the two Ministers who have been to the Dispatch Box. Indeed, if there is a third Minister to go to the Dispatch Box—she nods her head—I am sure that I will have sympathy for her. Look at the number of interruptions that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, received when he was at the Dispatch Box, and it was the same for the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. Look at the blasts that came from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson. The Ministers are safe from that at the moment because those noble Lords are no longer in their places, but there are further days in Committee, and I am sure they will come back and that the same blasts will be sent again to our Ministers.
I am sorry for the Government because they have just made a very simple mistake. They have sought to deal with European law the wrong way round. The right way round, as will be advocated later by my noble friend Lord Whitty, is to retain it. This is what happened in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act: it retained all EU law so that, when provisions of certain EU laws need adjustment, then adjust them, change them, scrap them; do what you like with them. That is the right way round. I have already expressed my reasons for being sympathetic to the three Ministers who are sitting on the Government Front Bench.
The sensible thing, having produced a Bill that is simply the wrong way round, is for the Government to withdraw it in a dignified way. I am sure all your Lordships would welcome that and would not seek to affront the Government in their modesty when withdrawing the Bill. It has happened before in my experience. In 1995, the then Conservative Government produced an arbitration Bill, which happened to be in my area of expertise. It was shown to members of the arbitral community, who told the Government that they had got it all wrong and that it was an atrocious Bill. The Government politely withdrew it. Then, under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, a new Bill was brought—not disposing of the Bill, just starting again. The noble and learned Lord produced a report and a draft Bill that was perfect, and the Arbitration Act 1996 has been in operation ever since, to the great benefit of the arbitral community, which is now a very big community.
That is the simple thing to do. If the Government simply and politely withdraw the Bill, we will politely applaud them.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, and I entirely agree with his conclusion, even if I might have expressed it in slightly stronger terms. I rise to make the first Green group contribution to Committee. I will speak particularly to Amendment 38 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Krebs, to which I have attached my name, although all the amendments in this group are closely related to food and farming, so to a large extent I will cover all of them. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and others who signed Amendment 2: I also signed it, but unfortunately other business in the House forced me into the other Chamber.
It is interesting to draw parallels between the first two groups, which covered employment law and employment rights, and this group. When we were talking about employment rights, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, along with many others, focused on their having been achieved over decades as a result of public campaigning and effort. We often talk about democracy as meaning things that happen here in this Chamber, and in elections and votes, but democracy at its heart is people campaigning. That is how we have delivered many employment rights and food protection rights, including in respect of pesticides, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, clearly described. Those protections were not arrived at by people sitting in a chamber; they have come through huge outside campaigns.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, I have listened to nearly all the debate thus far. We heard, particularly in the early stages, the Minister say, “Trust the intentions of this Government”. I have to contrast that with what we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who talked about departments thinking boldly and unnecessary regulatory burdens being removed. If that is the message being sent to departments, that would seem to indicate the Government’s intentions. Those intentions have been mentioned by all sides of your Lordships’ House, notably, and with horror, by Cross-Benchers. They cannot be accused of playing party politics and thinking about elections; they are simply horrified by the undemocratic—a word that has been used many times—and reckless, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, approach of this Bill.
The reason I chose to sign Amendment 38, when I could have signed any amendment in this group covering toy, cosmetic and food safety, is the issue of farm antibiotic use, which nobody has focused on yet. There is an interesting parallel to be drawn between antibiotic use and, as many people have referred to, the fact that financial controls have explicitly been excluded from the Bill because “This is all being dealt with elsewhere until we start going forward.” We are now coming towards the end of a crucial—and, I will acknowledge, the Government’s world-leading—antibiotics strategy, which is now going to be reviewed. So, why not exclude antibiotics, if nothing else? If we are looking to exclude the financial sector, why not exclude antibiotics, given that a review process is built into the system that is going to look at antibiotics?
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said many of the things I was going to say about pesticides and I associate myself with all her remarks. Pesticides is an area where the problem is very evident. Think about neonicotinoids. The ban on neonicotinoids came about after a huge Europe-wide public campaign and a petition with more than 1 million signatures. This was arrived at by the purest process of democracy. I come back to the point about the sunset clause and the timing. I am not sure the Government have really considered what is going to happen in the months ahead. In pesticide use, food labelling and food laws, a small handful of companies dominate their sector—enormous multinational companies with massive lobbying power. Many of those companies are going to be knocking on Ministers’ doors and lobbying for deregulation, using all their financial lobbying power and muscle.
Over the years there has been a balance between that kind of commercial lobbying and public campaigning. Ministers are again going to see all that lobbying and campaigning. Will the Government ensure that, if there are such meetings, there is an equal balance between campaigning groups and representatives of the public concerned about food safety, pesticides and antibiotics? Will the Government be providing a balanced opportunity for each side of the debate to lobby, if they are going to change or remove these regulations?
So, as many people have said, there are ways in which your Lordships’ House can make the Bill less bad. A “no regression” clause saying that none of the changes will weaken the protections would be something, although pretty complicated, I suspect. Removing the sunset clause, ensuring that departments have time carefully to consider the changes, would be another, but it is very clear that the best possible outcome would be no Bill at all.
My Lords, I want to pick up on the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and, particularly, my noble friend Lord Krebs, which I support.
The debate so far seems to have illustrated two points which have perhaps not come out fully in Committee so far. One is how much better it would have been had the Government taken a sectoral approach and legislated sector by sector. This is shown by the reference made recently in the debate to the Financial Services Bill going through this House now. That Bill replaces a large amount of European legislation, and it is going through without any problem at all because the Government have taken a careful, considered approach, have consulted all the interests concerned and have come forward with proposals which, broadly, are going to get the approval of both Houses. That sectoral approach would, frankly, work infinitely better than the across-the-board approach being applied now, and to which these amendments seek to make exceptions.
The second area on which our debate on these amendments has thrown a lot of light, and on which the government contributions so far to these debates have not thrown much light, is the potential implications for the trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union. These are extremely far-reaching, as has been made clear by various noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Krebs. If we diverge substantially from the legislation that we and the European Union had when we signed the trade and co-operation agreement, there will be trouble. There will be negative implications for our trade with the European Union. Trade in the food and agricultural areas which a lot of these amendments are talking about has been one in which Britain’s exports have been rising steadily for 45 years, since we joined the European Union. They could be hampered.
They have already been hampered by the Government’s refusal to sign an SPS agreement with the European Union, which we could do perfectly easily and which would remove quite a lot of the problems and suffering under the Northern Ireland protocol. An SPS agreement would remove the additional bureaucracy and the problems that there have been with our exports, but that would be before there is any divergence at all, because we still have the same legislation as they have on the other side of the channel. However, because we are not prepared to test things either coming in or going out, or to have an agreement which says that we do not need to, our trade has already been damaged quite a bit. That is nothing compared to what will happen if the Government decide to diverge sharply from the legislation that we currently have and are seeking to abolish.
When the Minister replies to the debate, it would be good if she could say what consideration the Government have given to and what impact assessments they have made on the potential for damage to our trade under the trade and co-operation agreement if the European Union should consider that we are diverging to an extent which invalidates what we signed in 2020.
My Lords, when I came into this debate, I did not anticipate saying anything, but I wear two hats—one as a farmer and one as a lawyer. I will not put my lawyer’s hat on. I would like to comment on the remarks, which were entirely to the point, of the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Hannay.
I have been actively involved, in one way or another, in agricultural businesses since the 1970s. I remember the damage, which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, described, to my livestock business—as an aside, it was subsequently destroyed in the hecatomb of foot and mouth. It goes to the bottom line of farmers’ businesses. As is well known, farmers are under the financial cosh because of all the changes being brought about on environmental payments and support systems, which are really hitting their incomes.
We are told by the Government that one of the desirable consequences of Brexit will be that British agriculture will be able to find markets elsewhere around the globe. In order to do that, there are two essentials. First, the other parties to these transactions must have long-term confidence in the quality and character of the product coming from this country. Secondly, they need to be sure that whatever rules are in place will remain, because these businesses depend on long-term supply agreements. The uncertainty hanging over the agricultural industry as a result of—if I may put it this way—clever-clever intellectual games by politicians and lawyers will damage their business. That is very unfair, not only for its own sake but because it will have a particular effect on those whose businesses are already being damaged by current government policies.
My Lords, this has been a very long debate and I think there have been a lot of excellent speeches across the Committee. I was struck by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, displaying his underlying humanity in expressing concern for the welfare of the Government Front Bench. I was also worried about which of them will receive the Defra buckets; I am hopeful that they will not receive the shovel of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, at the same time.
I shall speak to Amendment 25, which is in my name, and more generally on the issue of safety in the workplace, which is a subject we have yet to discuss today. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, talked about harm to business; this is about harm to people at work. My background for more than 30 years was in manufacturing industries, where the potential for harm to employees is very high and the role of employers and regulation in their supply chain is a very important part of making sure that nobody who goes to work comes home damaged that evening, because nobody should be harmed by the work they do.
Amendment 25 deals with asbestos and its safe handling. It would exclude the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 from the sunset clause. The regulations create the framework for the management of asbestos. These regulations form the framework for the management of asbestos, with provision ranging from building owners to those removing it or analysing samples which may contain asbestos fibres. Asbestos is a very serious issue in this country. Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Asbestos-related diseases currently kill around 5,000 people a year in Great Britain. This is a really important regulation.
First, we should note that the British Occupational Hygiene Society, a leading scientific body in this field and the chartered society for worker health protection, has welcomed the findings of a review by the Health and Safety Executive of the current Control of Asbestos Regulations. The Health and Safety Executive’s review findings highlighted that the regulations were broadly effective and should be retained. In essence, they seem to do the job, although it of course suggested refinements to improve them. However, those bodies have raised the alarm—I am sure your Lordships will not be surprised—that these regulations get thrown into the mix by the Bill. What will happen at the end of this year? Will they be retained, modified or revoked? We need to understand the future of this really important piece of legislation.
Of course, other major regulations protecting health in the workplace are also in danger of falling off the statute book. In 2021-22, 123 workers were killed in work-related accidents, many others received life-changing accidents and many thousands died from work-related ill-health. Lots more needs to be done to ensure that working people, their families and their friends do not suffer the pain and bereavement that workplace accidents can cause.
Can the Government explain why they are proposing that these laws should be put in doubt? That is what this Bill does, in the same way that it does to all the other 4,700 regulations: it puts them into play. For any of these to be moved back, forgotten or revoked will push the country back decades; that is what the automatic expiry of these laws could create.
I am taking the Minister’s advice to make sure that we put on record the laws we are concerned about. I was not going to mention them, but I need to make sure that everybody knows we care about them because, as we know, this is the only forum we may get to talk about them. I shall talk about the so-called “six pack” of laws that forms the core of the country’s workplace safety regime—it was mentioned en passant by the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, when he spoke to the first group. For reference, the “six pack” are: the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, the Manual Handling Operations Regulations, the display screen equipment regulations, the Workplace (Health, Safety, and Welfare) Regulations, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations. All of them form the centrepiece of how businesses are regulated on safety.
The best businesses operate above the law; that is how you improve safety. From my own experience of working within these businesses, I know that safety awareness goes beyond these regulations. But this is a minimum standard: it is, almost literally, a safety net, and it has to be retained. There are no grounds for calling into question these laws going forward. As the British Occupational Hygiene Society chief executive, Kevin Bampton, puts it:
“Asbestos, noise, radiation, gas safety and indeed the whole mechanism for management of health in the workplace are listed as retained EU law to be repealed, restated or amended. Most of these standards have been pioneered in the UK. The UK fought the European Commission over decades to retain its unique and effective approach to Health and Safety Management and the REUL Bill is likely to throw this all away”.
That is why I proposed this amendment and why I want to bring workers’ safety to the fore.
I will look beyond this, at some of the issues we have heard today and the very important cases of wider product safety, fair trading, food safety and standards, and agricultural and pesticide safety. Once again, the message through all this is that the Bill creates a lack of clarity—for example, around trading standards and their duty to enforce laws vital to ensuring that products such as toys, electrical appliances and cosmetics remain safe, as my noble friend pointed out. The law could weaken fair trade rules, which none of your Lordships have mentioned en passant, but that is another important element and legal certainty is needed to deliver fair trade. It could diminish information requirements such as food provenance, allergens—we heard about these in the last group—and perhaps use-by dates. It could make convictions for consumer rights offences unsafe, if the laws that underpin them are not clear or coherent.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute reports one of its lead professionals saying that, if nothing “proactive” is done to retain a law, it will be called into question—or, as he says, it “simply disappears”. We have been here before: this is not something that the trading standards world has not experienced. Following the consolidation of powers under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, some provisions were omitted, which made gas appliance safety, for example, unenforceable. This required follow-up remedial legislation to correct it. In that instance, confusion for businesses and potential consumer harm arose because of a relatively simple attempt to standardise powers. This was a very contained action, but it still created an unintended consequence. In comparison, given the scale of the Bill, how many unintended consequences are lurking underneath it? We know that literally hundreds will be there, but we just do not know what they are; that is why they are unintended consequences.
The CTSI says:
“The methodology is flawed in that we potentially won’t know what we’ve lost until it is gone.”
That is the nature of the Bill: we do not know what we are losing until we have not got it any more, and then it will be a problem for a lot of people, whether it is workplace safety, food safety, use of pesticides or whatever. That is why we are standing here and listing all these safety laws. We want to know which laws and regulations the Government intend to include on their list. What is in the buckets? We need to know.
My Lords, I am starting to wish we had degrouped this debate, because there were so many issues that, really, it was two or three debates rolled into one. It would maybe have been a good idea to spend a bit more time on some of the things that were raised. I say that even though we will probably spend the best part of two hours on this group—but I still think that we have skirted over some of the things that we might have wanted to delve into had this been a more sensible process.
We looked at toy safety. I remind noble Lords of where we started this group: the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, spoke to a really good amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, raising some important issues. I was a child in the 1970s, when nothing ever came with a plug attached or anything like that. Now, I do not have to worry about my children: they can have whatever toys they want and put them in their mouths or ears or whatever they want to do, and no one needs to worry too much.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said with regard to food, the improvement applies across the board, and successive Governments can be quite proud of it. A Tory Government do not come in and say, “We’re going to delete everything that was passed by our predecessor Labour Government because of where it came from”, but that is exactly what we are doing here. We are placing in question sensible measures that I have not heard anybody disagree with—I do not think the Ministers disagree with any of this—so I do not understand quite why we have to leave this question mark over these things.
The General Product Safety Regulations, which we have talked about, are really important. These are things that most consumers just take for granted, and so they should. That is where we would like to keep the situation, but concern is now being raised. Consumer organisations such as Which? and others are starting to say, “Hold on a minute, there’s a potential problem here.” Ministers will say, “This is just scaremongering—it’s causing anxiety where there’s no need for it”, but the Government are declining to take the steps needed to remove that anxiety in a very straightforward way, which they could do if they are right about that and should they wish to do so. I still very much encourage them to take that route.
The issues raised about the level playing field are incredibly important. We are expecting the poor generalist lawyers who draft these SIs to be experts not just in product safety, food manufacturing or asbestos, which are really important issues, but in international trade. They have to understand the TCA, the agreements that we have with Australia, the CPTPP, and how it will all work together if we diverge. We could end up diverging without realising that we have done so, until a court somewhere else decides to ask us about it. This just has disaster written all over it, and for what, if the Government are saying that they do not really want to change anything?
The Food Standards Scotland letter that I think everyone has had is really revealing. It makes some very good points, but the sentence that jumps out is where it says that Food Standards Scotland was invited to give evidence on this Bill that we are looking at. The Scottish Parliament is not looking at the Bill—we are—but Food Standards Scotland was invited to give evidence in the Scottish Parliament about it. When do food standards people get to come here and tell us what they think? We are the people debating the Bill. Where is the engagement and the opportunity for organisations to come in and allow us to benefit?
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that what people really want from these types of regulations is certainty, long lead times and consultation, but they have not had any of that from this process. The Minister is meant to be business-friendly and to understand what businesses want. I do not know what has happened to him here, because I have done Bills with him before when he was much more in tune with what business is saying. I am not seeing any of that today, which is a real shame.
Rather than go through all the amendments one by one and say what I think—I support all of them; they have all been very thoughtfully put together and spoken to—maybe we could make life very easy for the Minister. Perhaps she could answer on just one issue: asbestos. That is probably the least controversial thing that I could have picked. Will the Government revoke, retain or amend the regulations around asbestos?
I will come to that.
I thank noble Lords for their amendments relating to product, food, environmental and consumer protections and safety. While we all commend the sentiment, the Government believe that it is simply not necessary or appropriate to introduce individual carve-outs for specific regulations or policies in the Bill.
I turn first to Amendment 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, which was so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. I reassure them that the Government remain committed to protecting consumers from unsafe products being placed on the market now and in the future—and this of course includes toys. Our current product safety framework is largely a mix of retained EU law, domestic law and industry standards; as a result, it can be complex and difficult to understand. While the Bill is unlikely to give us the powers needed to implement a new framework, we hope that the powers in it will make it possible to amend or to remove outdated EU-derived regulations and to give us the ability to make some changes to reduce burdens for business.
The Government are finalising for publication a consultation into product safety this year. We will use available legislative powers, including those in the Bill, to take the necessary steps ahead of the sunset date to ensure that we uphold this commitment to consumer protection. This will take account of modern-day hazards and risks, the challenges posed by new supply chains, such as the growth of online marketplaces, new technology and supporting innovation, and net-zero ambitions.
I turn to Amendment 25 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, relating to the control of asbestos regulations—
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister just as she is getting into her flow, but she seems to be moving on to the next amendment. Before doing so, can she tell us whether that consultation, which presumably would allow adequate time for all the relevant bodies to feed into it before the sunset time arises, will actually give us a clear list of what is in, what is out and what is being changed? Will it be there? If so, why can we not have it now?
I am told by my noble friend, Lord Callanan, that it will include all the appropriate information necessary for a full consultation. I cannot commit to saying whether it will have the full list of all the regulations; it depends on what stage it is at. We will launch it soon, and that will inform noble Lords more about the intention of the Government on product safety.
Amendment 25 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox—
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I understand, from trading standards, that the government product safety review was due last spring and then expected at the end of 2022, but it has not been published. Do we have a date for it to be published yet?
I am afraid that I will have to write to the noble Baroness on that; we do not have an answer at this stage. The consultation is a new initiative and will be launched soon.
Amendment 25 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, relates to the control of asbestos regulations. The noble Lord has provided a good example of an area where we regained the ability to regulate autonomously upon leaving the EU. Both the post-implementation review 2022 and the Work and Pensions Select Committee evidence suggest that further clarity around the categorisation of asbestos works, particularly regarding non-notifiable licenced work, would be beneficial, and the Health and Safety Executive has committed to considering how this could be developed further. HSE will undertake research and engage with stakeholders to consider an evidence base for the introduction of mandatory accreditation for asbestos surveyors. If this is taken forward, it will be as a result of a change to the CAR. Indeed—
How does the Bill make that happen, when Clause 15 does not allow an increase in regulatory burden? The Bill does not facilitate what was just stated at the Dispatch Box: it cannot happen as a result of the Bill; indeed, the Bill stops it from happening.
I did not suggest that it was happening as a result of the Bill; it is happening anyway, and that will inform our decisions on further regulations.
The regulations are on the dashboard.
Minister, this is all news to us. Where will the detail be found on this? Why is a Minister suddenly popping up and saying these things now? The Bill specifically prevents the kind of work she is talking about, because it relates to retained EU law, and retained EU law will be dealt with this way.
We cannot have anything in the Bill which could be interpreted as an additional burden. A burden, as defined by the Bill, includes,
“a sanction (criminal or otherwise) which affects the carrying on of any lawful activity”.
I do not even understand what this means. What the Minister is saying now seems to contradict the purpose of the Bill. She is creating more confusion. It would really help this House to consider what is going on here if we could have a pause in this process and maybe some sort of paper from the Government as to how they want to proceed. It is not good enough. We should not be asked to make these sorts of decisions about the Bill and then there suddenly be a big reveal from the Dispatch Box halfway through Committee.
I do not believe it is a big reveal. It just underscores the sort of work that the Government are undertaking in parallel to inform better their decisions about whether to repeal or revoke EU law. The noble Baroness talks about undue burden. We are talking about the totality of burden on a particular sector. This may well reduce burdens by making more relevant legislation to control asbestos.
My Lords, surely the point is that these crucial protections on asbestos could in principle fall off the statute book. They could be lost at the end of this year, whether by accident or design. I want to be clear: this is critical. According to the HSE, asbestos is the single biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK. Asbestos-related diseases kill 4,500 people every year in England, Scotland and Wales. There are hundreds of buildings where asbestos is still present. As the TUC survey and no doubt many others have shown, this is a critical issue for working people. Frankly, whether or not there is a consultation going on in some other area is neither here nor there. We want to know what will happen to those EU-derived protections now. We want to hear it.
There is no question of going back on the protections that the existing EU law provides. As you have heard me say, the Health and Safety Executive believes that we can develop this further, and this review is intending to provide more information. I would have thought that would have been of some comfort to noble Lords. I shall continue and try to make progress.
The Health and Safety Executive will undertake research and engage with stakeholders to consider an evidence-based introduction of mandatory accreditation for asbestos surveyors. Indeed, the Health and Safety Executive will use the introduction of this Bill as an opportunity to ensure that our regulatory framework in relation to asbestos continues to operate effectively. This will include considering the current categorisation of asbestos removal work.
I am sorry, but the Minister just said that the Health and Safety Executive is going to use the introduction of this Bill to conduct a review. This Bill specifically prevents the Health and Safety Executive from what some of us would conclude is improving safety at work, because it talks about not increasing the regulatory burden. How that is defined or interpreted is critical. There is an attempt to define it in the Bill, but it is inadequate. We need some kind of schedule or some explanation from the Government, specifically about asbestos—because this is what we are talking about now—so that we understand what we are being asked to agree to.
I understand the point the noble Baroness is making. We are not talking about increasing the totality of the regulatory burden. We are talking about making it fitter for UK purposes, which is what the Health and Safety Executive is seeking to undertake.
I am very interested in what the Minister is saying. This asbestos review sounds like good news. However, given what she has said, there seems now to be an overwhelming case for a government amendment similar to Amendment 45, which takes financial services business out. If the asbestos issue is being explored with a view to improving the existing regulation, it cannot be done under this Bill because this Bill does not allow for improvements—well, it depends how you read Amendment 45 and how you read the Bill. For the asbestos review, which is good news in my view, surely it needs to be exempted from the provisions of this Bill by adding an amendment like Amendment 45.
We just do not believe that that is the case.
I just want to make what I think is an important point here. The Government are talking about the totality of regulations and saying that it does not stop the asbestos regulations becoming stronger. If the total has to be less, what are we going to lose in the protections so that we do not have a higher total? An addition has to mean a subtraction.
Before the Minister responds—I may be taking advantage here—the Health and Safety Executive is an agency that is able to impose sanctions. However, under this Bill, under whose auspices the Health and Safety Executive will be conducting its review, as the Minister describes it, it will not be able to impose or suggest anything that could be a financial cost, an administrative “inconvenience”, an obstacle to trade and innovation or a sanction. The Minister is chuntering from a sedentary position about totality but the Bill does not say anything about totality. That is their interpretation; it may well not be a court’s interpretation. We need some more information from the Government on this issue.
I am afraid that the Government’s position is that we simply do not accept that interpretation of the totality. Of the 4,000 pieces of retained EU law, we will be repealing a number of things. We are talking about not increasing the totality of the regulatory burden because some of that will be falling away and may just simply not be appropriate, not just on asbestos but on many other fronts as well.
My Lords, I think that we have just introduced a whole other confusion. Clause 15 talks about not increasing the regulatory burden. Is the Minister now proposing that it is the total across all 4,700, which is what she just said? She has an opportunity to correct that and explain what not increasing the regulatory burden really means.
I think the best thing I can do is commit to giving the noble Lord a definition of “regulatory burden” in writing in due course.
When the Minister writes, can she also give us an indication of how that definition has already been shared with government departments, which are busy reviewing their legislation? They are presumably using some sort of metric—do we weigh the buckets by the pound? Is it the impact on business or is it the public good that is delivered? The Treasury has argued for years about the methodology for judging the benefit—or otherwise—of legislation. I would be interested to know what sort of guidance has been given to government departments.
We will give as much further clarification as we can.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister yet again but I was pleased to hear that she has agreed to write to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, to clarify this question, which was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington. Can the Minister include in that letter a couple of worked examples to fix this in our minds? When it is all very abstract—increase a bit here, subtract a bit there—what is the common currency? How do you combine the four or five different criteria for burden into a single unit? I am a scientist so I like to be able to measure things. If she could just give us a couple of worked examples in her letter, that would be great.
My Lords, while the Minister is considering her response to that, may I say that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has just made an extremely important point? It strikes me that, when you are defining regulatory burden, you need to decide whether the regulatory burden on, for example, one very small group of businesses ranks the same as something that affects every workplace in the country. The calculation becomes vital if the Government are now saying, as seems to be the case, that the regulatory burden has to be looked at in the totality of all these regulations.
I can commit to reflecting on what other information we can give in respect of the regulatory burden.
To make further progress—no, maybe not.
Sorry, I have one very short point. One of the examples that has often been given as irrelevant is the export of Sicilian lemons—they seem to come up quite often. Surely something that is irrelevant should not be counted as any kind of change; it should just be put aside?
I take the noble Baroness’s point.
I turn now to Amendment 16, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 specify a general safety requirement that products placed on the market or supplied by producers and distributors must be safe. As with the previous amendment, I can reassure noble Lords that the Government are committed to protecting consumers from unsafe products, and we will take the necessary steps ahead of the sunset date to ensure that we uphold this commitment.
Turning to Amendment 18, this sentiment also extends to this amendment, protecting consumers from unsafe cosmetic products. We will continue to ensure that cosmetics placed on the market now, and in the future, meet the requirements of the regulations which safeguard public health and enable a fully competitive market.
Amendment 19 would exempt the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, known as the CPRs, from the sunset. The UK has always had high standards of consumer protection and will continue to. This Bill will not change the Government’s commitment to uphold these high standards. The Department of Business and Trade will confirm the plans for consumer protection shortly and will be introducing the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.
I turn now to Amendment 20 and the General Food Regulations 2004. In reviewing retained EU law, the Government’s aim is to ensure that food law is fit for purpose and that the UK regulatory framework is appropriate and tailored to the needs of UK consumers and business. The General Food Regulations 2004 prohibit the placing of unsafe food on the market and giving misleading information to consumers, and places obligations on food businesses to ensure the traceability of foods. This Bill will not alter our commitment to maintaining our world-leading food safety and standards.
Regarding Amendment 22, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I can reassure the noble Baroness and other noble Lords that my noble friend Lord Benyon will be answering the debate that relates to environment matters on Tuesday, and will perhaps then be able to provide further insights into the interaction of the various Bills mentioned by the noble Baroness. Let me assure her that the United Kingdom upholds strict food safety, health and environmental standards. Our first priority regarding pesticides is to ensure that they will not harm people or pose unacceptable risks to the environment.
His Majesty’s Government has an excellent record on the environment, enshrined in law in our landmark Environment Act. Any decision on preserving, repealing or amending retained EU law will not come at the expense of these high standards, and we are working to publish an updated UK national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides.
The overall ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides remains in place. We continue to work with a wide range of organisations and partners to ensure the best possible outcome for people and our environment. Any decision on preserving, repealing or amending REUL will not come at the expense of these high standards, and additionally we are working to publish the updated UK national action plan for the sustainable use of pesticides in the first half of this year.
Amendment 30, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, seeks to exempt REUL relating to food safety, plant and animal health, which is in the scope of a specified section of the TCA from the sunset. Let me remind the Committee that the UK is a world leader in environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety. His Majesty’s Government have an excellent record on the environment; the Food Safety Act is in primary legislation and is therefore exempt from the sunset legislation. Defra is in the process of analysing its retained EU law, and determining what should be preserved, repealed or amended. Let me assure noble Lords that any decision on REUL reform will not come at the expense of our high standards.
The Government are also committed to upholding our international environmental and food obligations, including those under the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU, and I hope that provides the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, with some reassurance.
Amendment 38, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, also seeks to exempt—unnecessarily, we believe—a whole swathe of REUL in areas relating to agriculture and food production from the sunset. The intention behind the amendment appears to be to ensure that regulation in the specific subject areas is not altered by the sunset. This amendment, while well-meaning, is perhaps misguided. The Bill is merely an enabling Act, which empowers departments to think about these regulations, providing them with the tools to remove unnecessary regulatory burdens but providing a clear and efficient mechanism for retaining regulations where it is considered in the interests of the public to do so. The UK is committed to continuing to apply our farm-to-fork strategy, which requires high animal welfare and health standards on farms and ensures that robust food hygiene practices are applied throughout the food production chain so that no single measure is relied on to be responsible for the safety of our food.
In that case, could the Minister confirm that BSE monitoring will be retained as it is?
That is a question for Defra; I cannot confirm or deny any particular regulations that will be looked at. As the noble Baroness will understand, these things are a matter for Defra.
Defra is the producer’s department; who is looking after the consumers? That was part of the problem: Defra will look after the producers and will be lobbied by the producers; where is the role for the consumers? Section 1 of the Food Standards Act 1999 says that the Food Standards Agency’s role is to put consumers’ interests above all else in relation to the consumption of food. So what is the role of the FSA? I declare an interest—because I do not trust Ministers—that I have had no discussions with the FSA about this Bill; everything I have used is public, open-source information. I want to know what the FSA’s role is, because Defra is for the producers; who is going to look after the consumers?
The noble Lord, as a prior chairman of the FSA, will know that the FSA is a part of Defra and represents food standards.
I beg your pardon. If the Minister is not aware, the FSA is a non-ministerial department, which answers to Parliament through the Department of Health, not through Defra. That is the whole point: to keep the producer away from the consumer’s interests.
My apologies to the whole Committee for making that obvious mistake. There has been a write-round to all departments on this Bill. The repeal of EU law is being considered by each department in the write-round, and our commitment to not reducing consumer protection remains in place.
I feel sorry for the Minister, because I do not doubt her personal commitment to maintaining these high standards. The problem is that the Bill does not give us that assurance and nothing that the Government have published, other than those high, fine words, gives us that assurance. That is why my noble friend Lady Young asked for the three buckets to be published, because that would then enable us to see that the Minister’s words are being reflected in action. It would make her life easier, and that of all her colleagues on the Front Bench, if they simply made it clear what was expected to be retained. The only reason we are in this mess is because the Government have decided to do all this the wrong way round, instead of simply working through regulations as they came up which may or may not need changing.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. Of course it would make all our lives easier, and they will be published in due course. I am not going to go further than that.
This is new information. I have yet to hear from the Dispatch Box that this list will be published. I am delighted, but it would be very helpful if the noble Baroness could tell us when the list will be published.
As the noble Lord will appreciate, it will be published when the work is complete. The work is ongoing within all departments—the noble Baroness looks shocked.
I come back to the question I asked in the previous group: at what point does the dashboard—this list—get frozen? What happens if it is frozen in the middle of December? This is just impossible. If there is going to be a list and work published, as things emerge and more regulations are added to the list—which I completely understand; I think we would rather see them added to it—we need to understand how it fits in with the impact assessments and with consultation.
In terms of the dashboard, the vast majority of the work is already done, but there will be bits that will be added or found, most of which will be from old legislation. Most of the relevant work has already been done, but it is still subject to review.
It is good to hear that the dashboard is nearly finished; it has been interesting watching it emerge. Your Lordships will be glad to hear that I have read every single environmental provision in the original documentation that is on that list.
I wonder if the Minister could tell us about what happens when the buckets are published—not the list but the buckets we are sorting into. I do not know if your Lordships have ever watched that telly programme, “Snog Marry Avoid?”—that shows how intellectual I am on a Friday night—but I kind of typify the buckets like that. The “avoid” one is for the ones that we are going to get rid of because nobody really wants them; the “marry” one is for the ones that we all think are wonderful and we are going to just give a straight run through; and the “snog” one is for the ones that we have to spend a bit of time on to find out whether they are really up to it or not. The quicker we can get the buckets published, the better. Will the buckets come out early enough for this Parliament to play a proper role in coming to some conclusions and helping the Government decide whether they have everything in the right bucket? There might be a little desirable treasure tucked away at the bottom of one of the wrong buckets that we all cherish.
I am sorry to keep labouring this point, but the Minister keeps introducing new information. In referring to the dashboard, the Minister implied that the dashboard is the list. Nowhere in this legislation is the dashboard referred to. What is the legal status of the dashboard with respect to the sunset?
The dashboard has all the retained EU law which is subject to the provisions of the Bill; it is a working document.
It is not in the Bill.
I cannot resist, I am afraid, intervening on this. I was in a Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee meeting this week when it was indicated that the dashboard was just a tool and, as far as I understood it, did not have a legal status. While I am on my feet, can I ask where and in which bucket the legislation passed by the devolved Administrations is—which are, I believe, at a very much earlier stage in identifying the numbers for the dashboard?
I know that this is of concern to a number of Members in the Committee, but officials from the UK Government are working very closely with those from the devolved Governments in order to identify the REULs that cross over devolved competences. I know that there is a general concern within the devolved Governments that they simply do not have the manpower to look at all these EU laws themselves, so we are helping them in that process. That is an ongoing job of work being done from official to official.
My Lords, the Minister has rather changed the rules on this. If the dashboard is almost complete and there is an intention to put something next to every thing on the dashboard—perhaps not using my noble friend Lady Young’s terminology but a slightly more bureaucratic one—we need to have that list before we move to any further stage of the Bill, otherwise we do not know what we are talking about. The noble Baroness has explained in relation to asbestos, rightly and thankfully, that those regulations will not be sunsetted. What happens to the other 4,700 regulations? We do not know. We need that list before we take any definitive decisions on the Bill. I hope that government Ministers and the business managers will go away and recognise that, and that we will not move until we know a lot more about where we are going.
The dashboard is ongoing work. It does not put things into buckets, but just includes all the EU laws that are subject to review. That will be published but it will certainly not have the buckets that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is asking for.
There is an outstanding point here. How is the dashboard connected to the Bill? There is no legal connection between the two, so how will the Government connect them? Currently, there is nothing that joins the dashboard to this law.
I do not accept the noble Lord’s point. The dashboard is just a list of retained EU law that will be subject to the provisions of the Bill but will not be part of the Bill.
I apologise to the Committee for continuing this point, but the Government have said repeatedly that they do not want to increase the regulatory burden. We have had the debate about what that means, but if we are not going to increase it and the dashboard is part of the tally of what that burden is, how does it get connected back in?
The dashboard does not have any legal status. It is simply a list of the job of work that all the departments will have to do, reviewing each bit of retained EU law to work out which bucket it will fall into. These are legitimate conversations to have in Committee, so we can go on debating this. I know that your Lordships feel sorry for me up here, but I have two Ministers behind me and the Leader of the House. If there is something that I cannot answer directly—
When we started discussion in Committee this afternoon, the issue was it will either be retained or amended or it will simply drop off, and the drop-off bit is in the Bill. That is the connection and that is why this is so important.
We have just heard that the Minister will write to us about asbestos, because there will be a review and it might increase the regulatory burden. She says that it will not increase it because it will be considered as part of a totality, so then we have all the regulations that will be part of it. I know that I have been here only for 10 years, but I have never experienced anything like this. We have a major piece of legislation, we are trying to probe things in Committee to find out what it means, and we are simply not getting answers.
I have a qualification about the dashboard. The retained EU law dashboard showcases which departments, policy areas and sectors of the economy are most saturated by retained EU law. It will be updated quarterly to document the Government’s progress in amending, repealing or replacing retained EU law that is not right for the UK. It is right that the public are able view where retained EU law sits on the statute book and therefore hold the Government to account. I think that answers—
How will it hold the Government to account?
It will be a published document.
I am trying to get this clear in my head. We are not saying buckets, and I am trying not to say “snog, marry, avoid”, but will the dashboard say the status of each measure—retain, revoke—next to it? If that is the case, it will be quite simple for the Minister to answer my question about whether BSE monitoring work has been done, bearing in mind that we are at the end of February.
The dashboard will be updated with status as each EU law is reviewed.
My Lords, I have just one simple point to make. Unless we are clear whether the Bill says that the overall regulatory burden must not increase, or specific legislation—
I have already offered to write on that point.
Yes, but a big follow-on from that is that that is where the impact assessment becomes critical. We have been told that we will have individual impact assessments, but that will not help us if we are trying to look at the whole picture. So we do need absolute clarity on that in order to action, in my view, a proper impact assessment for the whole shebang.
There will be an impact assessment on all new regulations. I will be writing with further detail on impact assessments.
We also seek clarification on something the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said at Second Reading: that there will be impact reviews, as the Minister has said, of new legislation, which is what we would expect under the normal statutory instrument procedure. But what is not clear is whether there is any impact review of stuff being put in the “avoid” bucket. If stuff is going to be left to go out the door on 31 December, is there going to be any proposition showing our loss or gain on those? If not, why not?
Not in terms of regulatory review, but those decisions will be taken within departments, and they will be sunsetted.
My Lords, it seems that we will know at about one minute to midnight on 31 December, because it will not have been retained or amended; it will simply be revoked.
With respect, it will be updated.
My Lords, the Minister should stop sitting down in the hope that somebody else is going to stand up. She said she envisaged that the dashboard—I think this was a prompt from her noble friend Lord Callanan—would be published on a quarterly basis. We are running towards 31 December this year, so are we talking about publication of the dashboard on 31 March, 30 June, 30 September and then the moment on 31 December when we will know exactly what is in and what is out? Is that what is envisaged?
I am afraid that I cannot commit to a specific timetable. Perhaps I could include that in my letter. We need to make progress, so I am going to continue.
Turning to Amendment 21, which is concerned with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, the Health and Safety Executive will seek opportunities to reduce business burdens and promote growth, while safeguarding the UK’s high health and safety standards. As I have said a number of times, we are committed to ensuring health and safety legislation continues to be fit for purpose and that our regulatory frameworks operate effectively following the sunset.
I hope I have been able to provide some reassurance to noble Lords. The Bill does indeed provide the tools to allow much-needed reform of retained EU law, but it does not change the Government’s commitment to uphold the highest standards across all the sectors raised in these amendments. There is no need to remove these specific regulations from the scope of Clause 1.
Finally, I reiterate that we are committed to high standards and equally committed to compliance with the trade and co-operation agreement. I kindly ask the noble Lord, Lord Fox, to withdraw his amendment.
Well, my Lords, I am not going to prolong the agony, because it has been pretty agonising and extremely painful. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris: the Minister has been put in the trenches with an extremely rusty musket, if I may say so, and we have not had many satisfactory answers. But this is entirely down to the Government, who have set so many hares running. How many amendments do we have to put down to get assurances from the Minister, however fragile they may be? How many agencies do we have to mention? We have heard mention of so many today that have reviews going, are not being properly consulted or will not have time to deal with whatever is in the bucket. This is a kind of lucky dip—perhaps that is the next thing. If it is not in the bucket, or we have not identified it in the bucket, maybe on 31 December it will be as if it never existed.
The level of uncertainty is extraordinary. With only 10 and a half months to go, the Government seem to be relying on this stately progress of identifying what these regulations are, never mind working out whether or not they should exist. Then, of course, we need clarification, because the Bill certainly is not clear, about the meaning of Clause 15. This is what the food industry, the toy industry and all the product manufacturers are worried about. They want enhancement —I mentioned online safety—of our regulation, which seems to be denied them.
The Minister mentioned a number of reviews going on, but it is like these reviews are happening with somebody with a gun to their head. It seems quite extraordinary that that is the way we are going. Speakers right across the Committee have made some superbly expert speeches today. We have talked about the dangers of divergence from Europe, issues of public trust, problems with business certainty and a lack of lead times in order to adjust to the new regulations.
At the end of this debate, one feels like throwing one’s hands in the hair and saying, “My goodness me. How did the Government get into this situation?” It is totally untenable and they really should scrap the Bill at the earliest opportunity and carry on with some of these reviews without this pressure, which seems to be relentless, where civil servants are scrambling around and devoting a lot of time fruitlessly trying to identify what on earth is retained EU law.
No doubt we will keep returning to this. This is just the tip of the iceberg and I feel very tempted to table another 4,650 amendments. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
6: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at beginning insert “Except for the Artist’s Resale Right Regulations 2006 (S.I. 2006/346) and the Artist’s Resale Right (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (S.I. 2011/2873),”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment excludes the Artist’s Resale Right Regulations 2006 and 2011 from the sunset in Clause 1. The Regulations protect the royalty rights of artists and their heirs.
I will move Amendment 6 and speak to Amendments 13 to 15 on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. Just to say, both he and I support Amendment 145 in this group from the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay.
We are moving now to the area of intellectual property, where there is a very large potential change of intellectual property rights as a result of the Bill. One of the biggest threats comes from the precedents established by the ECJ being sunsetted at the end of this year. This will create great uncertainty and be an incentive for litigation for the creative and tech industries. This is further aggravated by the fact that there is no simple way to source or identify these judgments, which makes the task of understanding their implications especially difficult.
Currently, EU decisions reached prior to 1 January 2021 are binding on the UK courts, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court aside. Under the Bill, EU cases will no longer act as binding precedent on all UK courts. While a UK court could still consider EU cases for their persuasive value, the courts will be under a duty to interpret EU cases in accordance with primary UK legislation or, if this is not possible, to disregard them. There is also an opaque duty on the courts to consider the extent to which the retained EU case law restricts the proper development of domestic law. How the courts will interpret this duty is extremely difficult to predict.
The copyright landscape in the UK has been heavily shaped by EU cases, which in many cases have significantly expanded the scope and availability of copyright protection. The most notable recent example is the CJEU decision in Cofemel v G-Star Raw (C-683/17), which redefined the types of works which are subject to copyright protection.
The decision in Cofemel expanded protection to any identifiable work that is the author’s own intellectual creation. This definition has potentially expanded the availability of copyright protection to a plethora of new areas, from programming languages to fabrics and from facial make-up to literary characters. Given that Cofemel arguably contradicts the closed list of the CDPA, the Bill may make it mandatory for the court to disregard it. Businesses that have relied on copyright’s existence in non-traditional works may find their current copyright protection lost.
The recent case of Shazam Productions Ltd v Only Fools the Dining Experience Ltd & Others, 2022, EWHC 1379, also highlights the risk of such a departure. The case concerned whether the characters from the popular sitcom “Only Fools and Horses” could be protected under copyright. The court relied heavily on the definition of “works” in Cofemel to find that literary characters could be protected by working backwards from the EU definition of a “work” to find that characters could fall within the definition of literary works under the CDPA. It is not clear that the court would reach the same decision after the Bill is enacted.
This causes huge uncertainty. What is the Government’s plan in this respect? Will they explicitly retain these precedents? Businesses that depend on intellectual property needs stability and certainty. Is the potential turmoil in IP rights part of the Government’s plan for growth? The IP regulations and case law on the dashboard, which could be sunsetted, encompass a range from databases, computer programs and performing rights to protection for medicines. There are 70 identified pieces of legislation that could be impacted—I promise I will not read them all out tonight. There are 25 related to copyright, 10 to trademarks, 13 to designs, eight to enforcement of IP rights and 14 to patents. A major risk to the creative sector would be from changes affecting copyright. As Creative UK says, intellectual property is the bedrock of the creative industry and the mechanism by which ideas are monetised to make businesses and careers in the industry viable.
Specific copyright-related implications include uncertainty related to database rights, which are the subject of an amendment today. There is considerable uncertainty around the status of the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997, which underpin the sui generis database right. On the basis that those regulations fall within the definition of EU-derived subordinate legislation, without any ministerial intervention the legislation will be revoked in so far as it relates to database rights.
At particular risk are artists’ resale rights. ARR entitles artists and their heirs to a small royalty when their work is resold by an art market professional. It ensures that up-and-coming artists, whose early work is often sold for very low prices, benefit as the works increase in value. This is because the law was implemented from EU directive 2001/84/EC. The UK transposed the right via two statutory instruments. The first, in 2006, introduced ARR for living artists, and the second, in 2011, extended the right to the heirs and estates of artists who have died. Visual artists are some of the lowest earning creatives, earning between £5,000 and £10,000 a year. Since ARR was introduced in 2006, DACS has paid more than £100 million to artists and their estates. With the third-largest art market in the world, the UK remains a global powerhouse, demonstrating that ARR and the art market can coexist. Losing ARR would not only strip UK artists of a vital personal and economic right but would jeopardise the UK’s position as a world leader in IP and the creative industries.
ARR is being adopted throughout the world, with countries such as Canada and South Africa looking to introduce legislation. The UK’s trade negotiations have been important in securing reciprocal ARR in Australia, and indeed in encouraging New Zealand to introduce the law. ARR features in UK trade agreements negotiated after Brexit with third countries and therefore it may be that a commitment to ARR falls within the UK’s international obligations that are considered when retaining EU-derived law.
However, we are still waiting for more detailed guidance on what the Government mean by international obligations. The assumption is that this means: anything in international IP treaties, anything in the trade and co-operation agreement, and measures contained in our agreements with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The fact is that any changes should be undertaken only following proper scrutiny and consultation, as with normal policy-making, and not sunsetted by this Bill.
So will the Government ensure that artists’ resale rights are not affected by the changes to REUL, and that the 2006 and 2011 statutory instruments are retained? More generally, I ask the Minister: has the IPO identified all the relevant IP legislation that is in scope and has it analysed the risk of sunsetting? In relation to intellectual property law, will the Minister confirm that any legislation relating to our commitments in international IP treaties, the TCA and trade agreements with Japan, Australia and New Zealand will be retained? Will the Minister further commit that any CJEU judgments in relation to intellectual property law will continue to remain in place should the laws they have to interpret be retained? Finally, will the Minister ensure that the stability of our IP framework and the investment that is reliant on that stability remain in place, so that we continue to have a gold standard of IP rights globally? I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to which I have added my name. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has said much of what I was going to say about ARR. I support all the other important amendments in this group, but I want to draw attention in particular to the importance of the artist’s resale right and how important it is for UK artists. I am grateful for the briefing from the Design and Artists Copyright Society, the rights management organisation for visual artists in the UK.
The visual arts play an important role in shaping the perception of the UK, and in our soft power. The artist’s resale right is applied when a work is resold through a gallery or auction house, and it is an invaluable source of income for visual artists, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out. It is the equivalent of royalties for musicians and authors when their work is replayed or reproduced. Earlier, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, talked about duplication, but, crucially, the operation of this right depends on the regulations referred to in this amendment. It does not depend on the EU or other legislation—it depends on these SIs. So, there is particular concern here with these regulations.
I am put in mind of what the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said earlier about uncertainty. People have talked about what will happen before the deadline on 31 December. I am very concerned about what we will wake up to on 1 January 2024, when businesses and organisations that depend on particular regulations to operate exactly what they do will find that those regulations have disappeared and that they simply cannot work. That is something the Government need to think hard about.
The resale right supports emerging artists as well as established artists. As DACS points out and as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, the average artist earns between £5,000 and £10,000 a year for their work in this area—a very small amount—and 81% of artists receiving such royalties use their income to pay for living expenses, including studio rent and materials. So these royalties can give a much-needed boost to those artists, which will in turn help to boost the creative economy.
This source of revenue becomes particularly significant, considering the rising costs of materials and increased rents for studio spaces, for estates that support an artist’s legacy by providing revenues to be used for managing the estate and for conservation, all of which contribute ultimately to the UK’s cultural heritage. The amount of royalties paid to artists is less than 1% of UK post-war and contemporary and modem sales, and as research has pointed out, there is no evidence that these royalties act as a deterrent to the UK art market. ARR is recognised by more than 80 countries worldwide and the principle is enshrined within the Berne convention.
ARR has been included in our own trade agreements, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, as well as in the withdrawal agreement with the EU, so the removal of this legislation would be inconsistent with the promises we have already made internationally with others. It is vital for the arts and our cultural heritage that this right is protected, and it should be excluded from the sunset clause.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 145 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. This amendment, to which my name has been added, has the backing of the Safeguarding Our Standards consumer protection campaign and continues the theme of other exclusion or carve-out amendments in this group, in that it would ensure that the Bill will not apply to any regulations relevant to the Government’s forthcoming digital markets, competition and consumer Bill. Many believe that this DMCC Bill represents the most significant reform of UK competition and consumer protection law in years.
The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, who cannot be here today, and I work closely together with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, of which he is president and I am a former president. We thank both CTSI and Which? for their support and advice on this amendment. In the Autumn Statement, the Government committed to bringing forward the DMCC Bill in this Session of Parliament, and it would be good to know from the Minister when that Bill will be published—it is supposed to be imminent. It will provide important reforms to competition and consumer protection law, including providing the Competition and Markets Authority with significant new powers to promote and tackle anti-competition practices and, indeed, updating retained EU law, such as the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, with measures to combat fake reviews and subscription traps. It is likely that businesses around the country will be reviewing their current approach to sales and marketing, given the expected new powers the CMA will impose as far as fines are concerned in relation to consumer law breaches through that Bill.
However, there is a very serious risk that the REUL Bill in front of us today will cut across what the Government are trying to achieve through the digital markets, competition and consumer Bill. That is why we believe that regulations that are in scope of the digital markets, competition and consumer Bill should be excluded from the retained EU law Bill. There is already a precedent for this, as the Financial Services and Markets Bill currently going through Parliament, which has already been talked about today, is excluded from the scope of the retained EU law Bill to avoid the risk of the two different pieces of legislation contradicting one another. We have not yet had a proper answer as to why this precedent is still there. The organisation Which? is, however, on record as arguing that the relevant clauses and schedule in the FSM Bill need to be improved to ensure that decisions about any remaining financial services retained EU law are accompanied by effective consultation as well as parliamentary and stakeholder scrutiny.
I urge the Minister to look carefully at this amendment in light of the need for robust competition and consumer law going forward in a very difficult economic time for many people and businesses.
My Lords, this debate has demonstrated what we already knew: there is retained EU law across all sectors of the economy, some of which is out of date and unfit for purpose. The Government have taken a sensible approach by requiring that this retained EU law is reviewed and updated equally and in the same timeframe. This makes sure that no specific policy areas get left behind. We have had essentially the same debate on all groups—with Opposition Members highlighting certain areas and saying, “This is very important”, and of course we agree with them, then asking for specific carve-outs, which is impossible until we have done the work reviewing it.
We reject Amendment 6. We think it is unnecessary and ask that it be withdrawn. The amendment would see legislation on artists’ resale rights excluded from the sunset provision. However, the UK Government have already committed to ensure that the necessary legislation to uphold the UK’s international obligations after the sunset date will remain in place. This can also be accommodated using the broader powers contained in the Bill. Again, we contend that there is no need for any carve-outs for specific policy areas.
Similarly, I disagree with the noble Lord’s additional Amendments 13 to 15, which would put various copyright computer programs and database regulations outside the scope of the sunset. The Government believe that an effective and efficient intellectual property system—
I apologise, I was not quite clear about something the Minister said. He made reference to the issues relating to the creative industries being covered by broader powers. Could he help the Committee by explaining what those broader powers are?
There are a number of broader powers in different pieces of legislation. I can get the noble Baroness confirmation in writing, but clearly if it is retained EU law it is also subject to the powers in this Bill.
As I was saying, an effective and efficient intellectual property system is fundamental to the Government’s economic ambition. In common with the rest of the Committee, we continue to support a strong and effective IP system that delivers for all those who rely on it. As part of that, assessing retained EU law on intellectual property as a consequence of this Bill will only help to ensure that this remains the same.
Ministers across government are already working closely with their devolved Government counterparts on their retained EU law plans, taking decisions on whether to preserve, reform or revoke legislation, and developing delivery plans to ensure that all necessary action is taken well before the sunset date. Once this process is complete, the Government will update the House on their intentions for the areas where they will focus on reform.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 145, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. A digital markets, competition and consumer Act is not expected to exist when this Bill receives Royal Assent. As such, it is not possible for this Bill to reference that Act if it does not exist. The powers in the Bill will be used as necessary to ensure that all reforms proposed by a forthcoming digital markets Act will operate as intended. I hope that has provided noble Lords with reassurance and that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment and the others will not be moved.
Forgive me for interrupting at this late stage, but could the Minister tell the Committee how much time he thinks will be necessary to update the House on what is happening to the 4,700—and growing—pieces of legislation?
If the noble Baroness has been listening to the debate so far, she can reference the dashboard with the 4,700 pieces that are listed. As has been said in previous debates—we have been through this at great length now—the dashboard will be updated as the Government’s intentions, once this review has been carried out, become clear.
The Minister said that, once decisions had been taken, he would update the House on the outcome for the 4,700 pieces of legislation. It was that I was querying.
The Minister mentioned that a decision had been made to continue artists’ resale rights. Where was that original decision made and will it continue in the same form that it is now?
The Government have signalled our general intention and the importance of the IP protection regime, which of course involves artist resale rights. We have stated our intention for that regime to continue, and we will of course update the House as soon as we have more information.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Like other noble Lords, I thank all three Ministers for responding to a Committee that is clearly concerned about what is going on in the Bill. The hour is late, so I will be brief.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, was right to be concerned about the consequences for artists after 1 January next year. I was particularly concerned about the definition of “broader powers”, and I recognise that other noble Lords have made comments or asked questions about what is happening first. The real message from this is that it is a great shame that we are rushing a group of amendments on the creative industries, which are vital to the growth of UK plc. None of the Bill seems to deal with law that is out of date, and that needs to be looked at.
The message for the day from all these groups is that the Government really should consider pausing the Bill. On every amendment we have debated today, there has been concern about the order of information coming out, so that Parliament, stakeholders or consumers can be aware of what is going on. It feels like this is all happening back to front. So I hope that the Government will take that seriously.
I will issue a clarification: it is actually 3,700 pieces of retained EU law, not 4,700, as I inadvertently said.
I am grateful for that clarification, but it exactly makes the point that every noble Lord made this afternoon.
My Lords, I am disappointed in the noble Lord’s response. I cannot see why the Financial Services and Markets Bill can be excluded from the scope of the Bill but not the forthcoming digital markets, competition and consumers Bill. I do not think that the case has been made, but I will not move my amendment when asked.
To conclude, I feel that a rather large number of amendments from today will return in some form on Report, with possibly thousands more, as my noble friend Lord Fox outlined—
It might be 1,000 fewer than we thought.
Even if it is 1,000 fewer, a large number will return. On that basis, I withdraw Amendment 6.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.