Commons Amendments and Reasons
1A: Leave out subsections (1B) to (1D)
My Lords, in moving Motion A, I will also speak to the other Motions in this group. It feels very recent that we had Third Reading on the Bill, as the other place has returned it remarkably quickly.
Motion A covers this House’s Amendment 1. The original amendment was to require a Joint Committee to consider the revocation list and to arrange debates in both Houses with respect to anything that represented a change to the law before the legislation on it could be revoked. I thank the noble Lords who sponsored this amendment for not pushing it again today.
Motions B and B1 cover the Commons disagreement to Lords Amendment 6. I sympathise with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in lieu of Amendment 6 on its intent to help establish legal clarity. Indeed, one of the main purposes of the Bill is to simplify the statute book. However, in my view, such an amendment is not necessary. The amendment seeks to clarify that the new clause “Retained EU law dashboard and report”, inserted by Lords Amendment 16, will include those rights, powers and liabilities referred to in Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I am happy to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, today that the Government intend to ensure that rights, powers, and liabilities referred to in Section 4 of the 2018 Act will be included in future dashboard updates and accompanying reporting. The Government will include those rights, powers and liabilities that they have explicitly codified or intend to codify, as well as those they have decided not to codify because they are no longer fit for purpose. I hope that this provides the necessary clarity around which matters, originally retained under Section 4 of the 2018 Act, will be codified into domestic law. I thank the noble Lord for his valuable and collegiate engagement on this matter. I hope that this commitment provides him with the reassurance he is looking for and that he therefore will not press his Motion.
Turning to the Motion to amend the drafting of what was Amendment 16, I know that many noble Lords have strong views on Amendment 16 and the Motions concerning it. The other place inserted further measures to strengthen the reporting requirements and to ensure that the Government inform Parliament of their progress on using the powers in the Bill and their forthcoming plans on a more frequent basis. The Motion in my name therefore simply tidies that drafting and, on that basis, I hope that the House is able to support it.
Finally, I call on the House to reject the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. The Government recognise the significant role that Parliament has played in scrutinising instruments and are committed to ensuring the appropriate scrutiny under the delegated powers in the Bill, including any instruments made under the powers to revoke or replace. This amendment would impose a novel and untested scrutiny procedure on regulations proposed to be made using the powers to revoke or replace. This novel approach is, in our view, simply unnecessary.
The Government will ensure that any significant retained EU law reforms will receive the appropriate level of scrutiny by the relevant legislatures and are subject to all the usual processes for consultation and impact assessment. However, it is important that we ensure that the limited amount of parliamentary time available is used appropriately and effectively.
The existing sifting procedures in the Bill have been purposely drafted as a safeguarding measure for these powers and already contain adequate scrutiny. They allow for additional scrutiny for the exercise of the power to revoke or replace, while retaining the flexibility of using the negative procedure where there are good reasons to do so—for example, in repealing redundant rules that no longer have any purpose on the UK statute book.
In addition, in certain situations, notably the use of subsection (3), the affirmative procedure continues to be required. The existing procedure will give the UK Parliament the opportunity to take an active role in the development of this legislation. It is a tried and tested method of parliamentary scrutiny which, in my view, delivers good results for everyone and draws on the experience of our parliamentary committees. We will, of course, respect the judgment of the sifting committees relevant to the Bill, in the same way as we did for the EU withdrawal Act. Therefore, I do not consider the proposed amendments to be necessary. I hope this provides the House with sufficient reassurance on this matter.
My Lords, I will speak to Motions B1 and E1 in my name in this group. Having heard the Minister, I can be brief on Motion B1, which concerns a sometimes-neglected part of the Bill. Clause 3 is headed “Revocation of retained EU rights, powers, liabilities etc”. That clause is unaffected by the Government’s concession on the sunset and continues to provide for all directly effective provisions of EU law—whether they are found in the treaty, in directives, or in international agreements—to be revoked at the end of the year. My concern in tabling this amendment has been to know precisely what is being revoked and what will be proposed by way of replacement.
To that end, Motion B1, which builds on the helpful amendment originally proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, seeks a guarantee that the directly effective provisions will be fully included in dashboard updates, as they have not been to date, and that the Government will give us clear warning in advance of those which they intend to carry over into our law and those which they may have decided not to carry over.
Unpicking provisions so deeply embedded in our law will not be a simple business. I declare an interest as a lawyer who sometimes needs to advise in this area. Such a commitment will be helpful to anyone who needs to understand what our law provides and how it is intended to be changed. I am grateful to the Minister and the Bill team for their constructive engagement on this issue, and for the clear commitments that he has just offered. In the circumstances, I am confident that I do not need to trouble the House with a Division on this issue.
Motion E1 is of a constitutional nature and concerns what, to some of us, has always been the most troubling feature of the Bill. It is nothing to do with the dashboard, direct effect or even the end-of-year sunset. It is rather the delegated superpower, headed “Powers to revoke or replace”, which currently appears as Clause 14. I remind the House of its most remarkable feature, subsection (3), which states:
“A relevant national authority may by regulations revoke any secondary retained EU law and make such alternative provision as the relevant national authority considers appropriate”.
That power will last until June 2026, which even we in the ivory tower of these Benches understand is some time after the next general election. It allows the Government to make regulations that Parliament cannot amend or, in practice, block, even when those regulations have quite different objectives from the laws that they replace, as the Bill makes clear.
I say “laws” because the measures whose replacement is authorised by this clause are no ordinary regulations concerned only with matters of detail. They include major instruments of policy, often arrived at by codecision between the Parliament and Council of the European Union—the equivalent in our system of primary legislation. They take the form of regulations only because of Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act, which was itself a prime target of Brexit, ironically, because it stripped sovereignty from our Parliament. The seriousness of what is proposed—permission to amend by statutory instrument numerous laws, in many fields, with the quality of primary legislation—is no doubt why, today, organisations from the RSPB to the TUC and the Law Society have come out in favour of this amendment.
The amendment contains an exceptional power, as the Minister said, but it is designed for exceptional circumstances. A Commons sifting committee would have the power to identify proposed regulations that are particularly deserving of parliamentary attention—perhaps because they are so substantially different from what went before, or because consultation or an impact assessment is lacking. Both Houses of Parliament could then agree on amendments—not an unprecedented power but one modelled on Section 27 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. This power would not be a precedent for the routine amendment of statutory instruments, any more than the Civil Contingencies Act has proved to be. Both these laws are in the same wholly exceptional category because both confer the power to make regulations on subjects that would normally be appropriate only for primary legislation—emergency powers in one case, and the unique circumstances of our departure from the EU in the other.
The precursor to this amendment, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and signed by me and the noble Lords, Lord McLoughlin and Lord Hamilton of Epsom, was carried by a majority of 64. It did not meet with favour in the Commons, although there were some interesting speeches from the Conservative Benches there. We have listened and come up with something more modest. Its scope is limited to the one clause I have identified—not three clauses, as previously—and the sifting committee will be of the Commons only, not a Joint Committee. There is ample reason, I suggest, to ask the Commons to think again about what we meant when we took back control and whether the Commons is really willing to write itself out of the script, as the Bill would allow.
I only wish that this speech could have been made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. It would have been half as long, twice as amusing and four times as persuasive. So I end by recalling that, at the last Queen’s Speech, the noble and learned Lord asked, on his favourite subject of delegated powers,
“what is the point of us being here if, when we identify a serious constitutional problem, we never do anything about it except talk?”—[Official Report, 12/5/22; col. 130.]
It is time to act, and I propose to do so by testing the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I will very briefly support what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said. I agree with all of his detailed arguments, which were extraordinarily well put.
I will focus on two general points. First, in principle, I am very much in favour of increasing the control of Parliament over the legislative powers exercised by the Government. That is increasingly the case because Governments of all stripes are increasingly using secondary legislation to make very substantial changes to our laws. I want to see much greater parliamentary control.
Secondly, and differently, this issue goes to the amending power included in subsection (3) of the proposed new clause—I am very much in favour of that. For the many years I have been in Parliament, I have been deeply troubled by our inability to amend secondary legislation. What is being proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is a mechanism; it may be rather a tricky one to use, but I hope it will be a precedent. It is one that I strongly support, because it is important for this House and the House of Commons to be able to amend statutory instruments. So if the noble Lord moves his amendment to a Division, I shall support it.
My Lords, I too strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said. I cannot resist telling the House that I am chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee, and some years ago the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was discussing a measure that was coming through our hands before going to Parliament, which had a clause that would allow the General Synod to make almost any changes to any law in England. We pointed out gently that it would not get through Parliament. Dear, oh dear, what are we talking about today? I would not have been quite as gung-ho about what could not happen in Parliament if I had come across this Bill and, I have to say, the Illegal Migration Bill.
The point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was making about delegated powers—I remember that speech very well—is one that I am delighted the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has taken up. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was saying that there will come a point when we will actually vote against secondary legislation—and maybe the time is just beginning to come. If we end up with having no power in Parliament, in either House, to decide whether laws that are different from those we have can be argued in either Chamber, what is the point of us being here? Consequently, I do feel that the House should support the noble Lord, Lord Anderson.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for the work he has done on Motion B1 with the listing of powers, rights and liabilities. I note that he will not press his amendment because he has got it to the point of getting a pledge from the Government.
Perhaps I might ask the Minister what the timescale is for putting these on the dashboard, because they are not currently on the dashboard. The last time they were searchable on the dashboard, only 28 rights, powers and liabilities were listed. They did not include, for instance, Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which, as all noble Lords know, concerns the right to equal pay for equal work; it goes further than the Equality Act 2010 and is an absolutely crucial instrument for equal pay. They also did not include Article 6.2 of the habitats directive, which imposes an obligation to take appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of habitats. Those are two examples of key rights and powers that need to be on the dashboard, and there must be many more. Can the Minister tell us how many he thinks will be listed and by when?
My Lords, I am delighted to support Motion E1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich. At a time when there is increasing concern about the balance between Parliament and the Executive, I was rather surprised that the elected House rejected the idea of a Joint Committee to sift proposals, which might well be of disadvantage to their constituents. I was also surprised—perhaps “saddened” might be the better word—that the Government saw fit to take that view of the amendment in the Commons. This Motion, as my noble friend outlined, returns to the charge, but provides a Commons-only Select Committee—a sifting committee—rather than a Joint Committee.
There has been much talk about amendable SIs. It may be part of the Government’s case, or be seen by the Government as strengthening their case, to portray them as a whole new category of legislative procedure, where SIs become like mini-Bills, with all the complications that would ensue.
Much as I appreciate the noble Viscount’s wish that these would be broad, sunlit uplands, I do not think that this is the case in this instance. As far as I am aware, there are only two examples of statute providing for amendable SIs, via Section 1(2) of the Census Act 1920 and Section 27(3) of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. SIs under either of those Acts are truly amendable because, if an amendment is approved, it becomes immediately effective.
What this Motion proposes is a little different; it is much closer to the super-affirmative procedure applied to legislative reform and regulatory reform orders, which does not seem to have frightened the horses in either House. There is a difference, yes, because in that super-affirmative procedure it is a matter of discretion as to whether the Minister accepts the advice of the sifting committee as to amendments that might be made. Commons Standing Orders 141 and 142 provide for that difference of opinion between the Minister and the sifting committee. The Motion before your Lordships would remove that ministerial discretion—but I find it hard to see how allowing the two Houses to take the decision would be such a dreadful thing, unless of course the Government see it as infringing upon the prerogative of the Executive, which would confirm the worst fears of many.
Whatever one’s views on the issue, it is very important to keep a sense of proportion. I cannot imagine the heavy weaponry that is implied by some in this Motion being deployed at all often. The Government, if they had any sense, would want to reach agreement with a sifting committee rather than seeking the adversarial outcome of a vote on the Floor of the House. In any event, what would be so wrong about accepting the view of an all-party committee which had identified in a government proposal hazards for business, the environment, civil liberties or any of the other fields in which Parliament is supposed to be the guardian of our citizens’ interests?
The Minister criticised the proposal on the basis that it was novel and untested. If one is going to improve the effectiveness of Parliament, there will from time to time be procedures that are novel. If it were not the case, we would be living the rest of our lives encased in a sort of parliamentary aspic. He also said that it was untested. In a parliamentary environment, you cannot have a novel procedure unless it is untested so, with great respect to the Minister, I would dismiss that criticism.
I conclude with a short look ahead, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, invited your Lordships to do, to the further stages that might ensue. There is an urban myth to the effect that two exchanges is the limit. I had some involvement with the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill in 2007, and on that occasion there were seven exchanges between the two Houses. Other Bills have demonstrated more than two exchanges on a number of occasions. On something that raises an issue of constitutional principle—and I borrow the description of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in speaking to his Motion—it would be right if the Commons were invited on several occasions to consider whether it had got this right after all.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, on the work that he has put into this. As he knows, I supported the original amendment and put my name to it, and I congratulate him on all the work that he has done since. I totally sympathise with all the sentiments that everybody has expressed. It is most regrettable—and I say this as somebody who campaigned to leave the EU—that we took the very undemocratically imposed EU law given to both Houses of Parliament, which we could neither amend nor reject, and now we are replacing that by giving that power to the Executive through statutory instruments under the negative procedure, which means that we cannot amend them or do anything about them at all. I do not think that that was what people voted for when they voted to leave the EU; I think that they wanted to restore parliamentary sovereignty, and this does not do it.
Having said all that, we are a revising Chamber; we asked the Commons to think again; they have thought again. It is a matter of regret to me that I have not even persuaded my leave colleagues in this House to support the amendment, let alone in the other place, and I do not think it is our job to play endless ping-pong. The House of Commons is elected; it has spoken, and I think we should go along with what it says.
My Lords, I strongly support this Motion and I disagree with the noble Lord who has just spoken, because it is our job not to let things through that are actually dangerous or damaging for our constitution and for the British people. I think the Bill has a huge number of flaws. I know the Minister to be an honourable man and I am sure he believes what he is saying, but the point is that he cannot tell us that this Motion is not necessary and he cannot say he gives us all the reassurance: how do we know he is going to be in post within a few weeks?
And of course, then we have the next Government. One of the things that staggers me about the Bill is just how much power the current Government are giving into the hands of the next Government, which could of course be a Labour Government. Surely, when the next Government come into power, those opposite will bitterly resent the powers they have put into the Bill. Personally, I think it is a dereliction of MPs’ duties as legislators to allow this to happen, so I thoroughly support the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I think we have to be very responsible here and say, no, we will not let this pass.
My Lords, “Do not take to yourself powers that you would not wish your opponents to have” is the substance of the noble Baroness’s speech, and I agree with that. I greatly admired the speech made by my noble friend Lord Hamilton at Second Reading. I admired his courage in putting his name to the amendment and I totally respect his view that one has to consider and judge how long ping-pong should go on. So, there is no disagreement between us on this issue, even though we were on opposite sides in the Brexit argument.
But I come down very strongly in favour of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, who, remember, is a very distinguished former clerk of the House of Commons and understands these procedural matters perhaps more than any of us. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, called in aid the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and we do indeed all miss his presence today and wish him a speedy return to full health and to vigorous debating in this Chamber. He has, perhaps above all of us, talked of the danger of Parliament becoming the creature of the Executive. That is to turn our constitution on its head, and it is something that none of us should be complicit in.
We do have a duty in this House, if we think the other place has got it wrong, to say, “Please reconsider”, and it is not in any way an aggressive use of our limited powers if we think their rethink, which did not take very long, has not been adequate. Therefore, I believe it would be entirely consistent with our relationship with the other place, and with our duty to Parliament, of which we are the second House, to say to our friends and neighbours along the Corridor, “We think you have got this wrong: you are giving power to the Executive which no Executive, be it Labour or Conservative, should have”. I do not want them to have it if they come into government, and I do not think it is right that we should have it. For those reasons, I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Anderson.
My Lords, I oppose the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. For what it is worth, I support the new iteration of Amendment 16, to which I put my name on Report, in Motion D.
I very much respect the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, and indeed my noble friend Lord Cormack, but I think we are missing the bigger picture here. We are effectively asking the other place to invalidate a Bill, for reasons I will develop shortly, which it passed by 53 votes when the will of that House was last tested. As I have said before in this House, I think there is a danger of legislative overreach—of assuming powers and of imposing responsibilities and obligations on the elected House, fettering its discretion and, by so doing, interfering in its rights and obligations. Notwithstanding what my noble friend Lord Cormack said, yes, it is our duty and responsibility to ask the other place to think again, but we have already done that. It has thought again and debated the issue. I have to agree with my noble friend the Minister. He is far too polite to describe the approach outlined by the noble Lord as it truly is: extremely radical. He described it as a “novel” approach.
Let us think about what this Motion would mean in practice. If we are in the business of improving governance by scrutiny and oversight, unless we vote for a fatal Motion to kill the Bill—which is very unlikely, because the Opposition Front Bench would not support such a move—surely the logical corollary is that we want to improve it. The perverse application of the noble Lord’s amendment would result in quite the opposite. The opportunities to revoke and, importantly, to reform the caucus of EU retained legislation would be slowed. There would be a process of delay and obfuscation, and it would not be effective government. In fact, it would be a betrayal of the responsibilities and duties we have as the upper House in scrutiny and oversight. Indeed, even above that, the Motion would invalidate the very raison d’être of the Bill, which has to exist. The noble Lord’s amendment is too rigid. It is instructive, and it would assume the powers of Ministers. In some respects, it would make this House itself part of the Executive in a way that Amendment 16 did not, which was much more permissive, declaratory and flexible in seeking to get to the same objectives.
For those reasons of legislative overreach, inadequate scrutiny and oversight, and delay and obfuscation if we were to go down the path of this Motion, I respectfully ask your Lordships’ House to reject it and support the Government.
My Lords, having sat quietly listening to the debate, which has focused on all kinds of minutiae over the past few weeks, I cannot help but conclude, taking an overview, that if we look at the history of Parliament we see that for hundreds of years it has had a tense relationship with the Executive. Over that period, it has developed a framework within which, in the interests of the British people as a whole, the Executive exercise their powers. We have had civil wars over it; people have died in that cause. Now we are being asked, it seems to me, to put that process into reverse. We are being asked that Parliament should move in the opposite direction and return to a system of governance where the Executive have ever more increasing control over everyone’s lives. I do not think that is the way we in this Parliament should respond to those kinds of circumstances, and it is my personal view that to do so is craven.
My Lords, from my perspective, the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, moved and explained his Motion was extraordinarily powerful. My summation is that this is an existential issue—we are way down a slippery slope. I respect the views of the elected Chamber. Had we been subject to a general election or a referendum which asked the British people whether they wanted control given to an Executive, consisting of a number of Ministers, or to each of their elected Members of Parliament equally, and the British people had supported the idea that we become an elected dictatorship of some kind, that would be a different matter. However, I do not believe that that has been put to the British people. I believe that the constitutional safeguards which this House represents, and which are there to protect ordinary citizens, need to be better safeguarded. I will therefore support Motion B1.
My Lords, I was not intending to speak so I shall be brief. This House is not elected—we know that—but that is not to say that it does not have a role, which it does. We heard a speech just a moment ago suggesting that ping-pong, the stage in which we are at the moment, is a game that should have just one exchange and leave it at that. There is no urgency about the time that it might take to ask the elected Chamber to think again. I am in favour of allowing the other place to think again. When you consider the wider history—we have just had reference made to it, quite rightly—we are going to allow a Bill of such magnitude to go through, shifting the balance of power between the Executive and the legislature in such a way, that people later on will look back and wonder why on earth the House did not express some degree of steadfastness in its view that the Government should think again. I shall vote for the amendment for that reason.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, and I will not prolong it much. On Motion B1, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who is unable to be here today, deserve, as they have already received, great congratulations. The Minister also should be commended on his flexibility in assuring and reassuring us that we will get the information we need. I hope the Minister can either talk to my noble friend’s question as to the timing and mechanics of keeping the dashboard up to date or give us a detailed letter at some point to let us know how that would happen; that would be helpful.
The substantive debate is around Motion E1. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, outlined with great detail and clarity the mechanics of how his amendment would work. He made it very clear that the debate in the Commons on the previous amendment has been taken on board very thoroughly in the formulation of this further amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Jackson, used the word “invalidate” twice, but if he looks at this amendment again he will find that it does not invalidate anything around the purpose and intent of the Bill. What it would do is bring Parliament back into the frame, which is what the majority of your Lordships have been talking about today. That is important. Clause 15 takes very wide powers to revoke and replace retained EU regulation, and as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, the level of this regulation is not normal bits-and-pieces regulation but is essentially primary law. It is not appropriate for statutory instruments to be used to not just change but completely replace primary law without a substantial role for Parliament.
The Minister talked about parliamentary scrutiny being at an appropriate level. It is clear that your Lordships have set out that we do not consider the current level to be appropriate, which is why this amendment is very important. The Government see it as a slippery slope, and will use that argument, but clearly, the exceptional nature of this situation means that it is not so.
Through this debate, I have come genuinely to respect the consistency and thoroughness of the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. He has been absolutely right about where the power should be in this argument. He talked about endless ping-pong, and I respectfully suggest that we are not proposing that; we are proposing one more ping and one more pong, and that is what we are debating now. That is why I side very much with the argument of the noble Lords, Lord Lisvane, and Lord Cormack, and others, and that is why we on these Benches will be supporting the amendment.
My Lords, I want to speak briefly to Motion E1 and to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for his work on this amendment and throughout consideration of the Bill. Noble Lords will be aware that the amendment differs from the one we debated in Committee and on Report. They will also know that, since the Bill was first published, we have been concerned that it gives Ministers far too much power without reference to Parliament. Clause 15 was especially difficult for parliamentarians to accept, given the extraordinarily wide-ranging powers to rewrite regulations which, in effect, could have similar power to primary legislation. This point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, but it is worth repeating.
Motion E1 allows for a committee to consider regulations when they are rewritten by Ministers and, where necessary, to refer them to the House for consideration. This is a more modest suggestion than that proposed and agreed by this House at Report. As we have heard, a not dissimilar process was used for the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, informed us, the Census Act.
Our view is that this approach is proportionate, not obstructive of the Government’s intentions and should be acceptable to them. We are concerned that the Commons has so far continued to push back on parliamentary scrutiny and views the procedure proposed by this House as inappropriate, but we hope that the newly constructed amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, will be welcomed by the Government and the other place.
The Commons has expressed a view, but we are returning to it a compromise. We on these Benches consider it to be the appropriate, reasonable and responsible thing to do. Following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, about whether we are imposing ourselves on the other place, I note that it adjourned a couple of hours ago and seems to have adequate time in its schedule to consider a rather modest suggestion from this House.
My Lords, once again, we have had a full, worthy debate on the Bill. I will keep my response brief, as many of these points are well worn and we have largely covered them in opening the debate.
I say to the House that this is not just an ordinary legislative amendment; it is about the procedures of Parliament. It is not even about the procedures of this House; it is about the procedures of the other place. The amendment seeks for this House to say to the House of Commons, “We think that you should set up by legislation an entirely untested and novel way of conducting your scrutiny of secondary legislation”, when the House of Commons has already said it does not wish to do that and does not think it appropriate. It is entirely inappropriate for us to do that when we have already heard the answer once.
The Bill is vital, and now that we have taken back control of our statute book, it is essential to update and modernise by amending, repealing or replacing those rules and regulations that are no longer fit or were never fit for the UK. This will allow us to create a new pro-growth, high-standards regulatory framework to give businesses the confidence to innovate, invest and create jobs. It will provide legal certainty and clarity across the statute book, ensuring we have consistent rules of interpretation across the UK body of law.
Let me mention briefly some of the points raised in the debate. On Motions B and B1, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for his speech. I hope that the House will move forward with Motion B.
Let me reply briefly to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, on the timescale for this work. We will add Section 4 rights to the dashboard as identified at least as frequently as every six months, as per the reporting requirement clause that is already in the Bill.
With regards to Motion E1, as I have already said, the Government listened to the views of this House on a number of issues in the Bill. We have already modified the schedule massively to take account of the many concerns that were addressed. I have to say, I consider it an unfair characterisation that the Government have ignored this House—far from it. It is much to the contrary.
On the Motion itself, I can only stress to the House that we believe this proposed novel scrutiny procedure to be unnecessary. The House of Commons has said that it also believes it to be unnecessary. With the reporting requirements already in the Bill and the proven sifting committee procedure that we have already agreed, Parliament will have strong provisions to scrutinise any legislation that is brought forward under this Bill. In the Government’s view, the appropriate balance between the need for scrutiny and the need for reform has been struck. I therefore hope that noble Lords will not push forward this amendment.
Motion A agreed.
Motion B1 not moved.
6A: Because the retention of anything which is retained EU law by virtue of section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 would be inconsistent with the abolition of the principle of supremacy of EU law.
Motion B agreed.
15A: Because the Commons do not consider the Lords Amendment necessary in order to maintain environmental protection or food standards.
My Lords, in moving Motion C, I will also speak to Motion C1, both of which relate to Lords Amendment 15.
We have had myriad discussions on environmental protections during the passage of the REUL Bill. I can only stress once again that the Government have no intention of lowering environmental standards, nor of breaching their international obligations. This not only makes the restrictions that this amendment places on the usage of the reforming powers with regard to the environment unnecessary; it also risks delaying or even preventing reform where it would be beneficial to do so. Indeed, as drafted, this amendment may in fact also make it more difficult for departments to ensure that the policy effect of environmental regulations can be maintained at the end of the year through exercising the restatement power. By doing so, it could actively undermine the purpose that it seeks to achieve.
As I and Ministers in the other place have set out previously, the Government are fully committed to upholding environmental standards. Defra has already reformed retained EU law in a number of key areas through flagship legislation, such as the Fisheries Act 2020 and the Agriculture Act 2020. In addition, since leaving the EU, the Government have also passed the landmark Environment Act 2021 and published strategies including the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023. Any changes to legislation will need to support these ambitions as well as be consistent with our international obligations. Furthermore, Defra has in many areas already reformed its retained EU law to streamline and update it without diminishing—in fact, strengthening in some cases—our levels of environmental protection.
We are very clear that this sets a direction of travel on environmental regulation that makes this amendment unnecessary and, as I said, the amendment may make it more difficult to reach the ambition on environmental protections that I am sure is shared widely across the House. I therefore ask the House to support Motion C and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to withdraw his Motion C1.
Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C)
15B: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Environmental protection (1) Regulations may not be made by a relevant national authority under section 12, 13, 15 or 16 unless the relevant national authority is satisfied that the regulations do not— (a) reduce the level of environmental protection arising from the retained EU law to which the provision relates; (b) conflict with any relevant international environmental agreements to which the United Kingdom is party. (2) Prior to making any provision to which this section applies, the relevant national authority must— (a) seek advice from persons who are independent of the authority and have relevant expertise, and (b) publish a report setting out— (i) how the provision does not reduce the level of environmental protection in accordance with subsection (1), and (ii) how the authority has taken into account the advice from the persons referred to in paragraph (a) of this subsection. (3) In this section “relevant international environmental agreements” includes but is not limited to— (a) the UNECE Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters (Aarhus, 25 June 1998); (b) the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern, 1979); (c) the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio, 1992); (d) the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn, 1979); (e) the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR, 1992); (f) the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, 1971).””
My Lords, my proposed new clause represents a simplified and shortened version of the amendment passed by your Lordships’ House on Report on 15 May. Before I explain the simplification, I want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and officials from the Bill team for their helpful discussion—although I am disappointed that we did not manage to reach a compromise, which I had hoped we would be able to do.
I will briefly recap the purpose of the amendment and explain the differences between my new proposal and the previous version. The core purpose remains the same: to ensure that any changes to EU laws do not dilute environmental protection or contravene relevant international environmental agreements, to ensure that expert advice is sought and to ensure transparency by requiring the publication of an explanation of how any changes do not reduce environmental protection and how expert advice supports this assertion.
The principles embodied in the amendment—non-regression, expert advice and transparency—are so non-controversial that I am at a loss to understand why the Government find them unacceptable. The new amendment differs from the version on Report in three principal ways. First, it leaves out food standards and is concerned exclusively with environmental protection. I would have preferred to leave food in, but the chair of the Food Standards Agency said it was unnecessary, and I defer to her advice. Secondly, the requirement to consult experts is less prescriptive than in the earlier version and is modelled on the wording in Sections 112(7) and 4(1) of the Environment Act 2021. Thirdly, acknowledging a point made on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, the new version of the amendment recognises that the list of international environmental agreements is not exhaustive; they are simply examples.
What are the Government’s arguments against the amendments? On Report the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, for whom I have the highest regard, said that my amendment was “burdensome” and “unnecessary”. As my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard pointed out to me, it is difficult for the amendment to be both at once. If it is unnecessary because it happens anyway, it cannot be burdensome. If it is imposing an extra burden on Ministers by introducing further steps required before changing the law, that may well be a good and necessary thing.
In explaining in the other place why the amendment should be rejected, the Solicitor-General said:
“Ministers have made it clear repeatedly at every stage of this Bill’s passage in both Houses that we will not lower environmental protections or standards”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/5/23; col. 328.]
The Minister made essentially the same point a few moments ago. The question for me is whether the assertions that Ministers have made are matched by the reality. If they are not, surely there is a case for securing an extra layer of guarantee in the Bill.
What does the Government’s own statutory watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, say about current environmental standards? Are the Government living up to their promises? The 2023 statutory report from the Office for Environmental Protection, Progress in Improving the Natural Environment in England, 2021/2022, makes for grim reading. It says:
“We have little good news to report … We assessed 32 trends across the breadth of the natural environment; nine trends were improving, eleven were static, and eight were deteriorating … We assessed 23 environmental targets and found none where Government’s progress was demonstrably on track … Overall, we do not think the current pace and scale of action will deliver the changes necessary to improve the environment in England significantly, as required by the Environment Act 2021”.
It is no use saying, “We already have an Environment Act, and therefore the amendment is unnecessary”, because the Government’s own watchdog is saying that action is not matching the rhetoric. We are not on track to meet the targets in the Environment Act. While I have the highest confidence in the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, as an Environment Minister and in his commitment to the environment, the OEP’s report shows that, more widely, the Government are failing miserably to protect our environment.
Furthermore, this is about the longer term. As was said in a previous debate, even if present Ministers may be committed to not diluting environmental standards, how do we know what future Administrations might decide to do? In its briefing for this debate, the Law Society said:
“It is imperative that business and the public can be certain that following the revocation of the EU laws, environmental protections and standards are upheld. Uncertainty is not only detrimental to the UK’s transition to net zero but also this country’s status as an attractive place to do business. Unless these standards are protected in law, we are concerned that future administrations could roll back on our commitments, thus creating uncertainty”.
In my view, there is thus an indisputable case to add a clause that would help to ensure that future changes to retained EU law do not further harm our already badly damaged natural environment. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s reply but, at the moment, my intention is to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
I support Motion C1. It is interesting, because all the constitutional arguments we heard earlier apply equally to this Motion. It gives Ministers the powers to delete or rewrite thousands of laws almost without any parliamentary scrutiny.
There is a vast ecosystem of about 1,600 environmental laws that are threatened by this Bill. These laws protect humans, animals and the broader environment. The Minister stood up and—forgive me for using this word —boasted about the Government’s credentials on environmental issues. I am sorry to inform him that, among the environmental lobby within the UK and worldwide, this Government have zero credibility on environmental issues. I am very happy to list them if necessary.
I accept that some of these laws are probably defunct or could be improved; that would be acceptable. What would be unacceptable is for the Government to weaken or delete laws that we need and that protect us and our environment. Although this is a constitutional issue, it is also about life. Forgive me if I am a bit emotional about this, but this is about the health of people and the planet. Without the planet, we do not exist. If we do not support our bees, we do not exist. If we do not think about our food standards, we will cease to exist. So it is incredibly important that this Motion is agreed to. We have to say to the Commons that it has got this dreadfully wrong.
My Lords, on Report I had a bit of a spat with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on this issue. It strikes me that it would be very odd if the Government wanted to put the health of their citizens at risk by not adopting these measures, so I am sure that they will. On top of that, not adhering to high food standards would completely undermine our exports to other countries. I do not quite see the point of this amendment and I will certainly vote against it.
My Lords, the debate on this amendment has been somewhat shorter. It would be easier to support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, were it not for the very explicit reference to regulatory burden. It is very clear in the Bill as it is now that the regulatory burden cannot increase. It is not clear how it is measured, whether as a particular regulation, a range of regulations or an entire statute book of regulations. But, in total, financial costs cannot go up; administrative inconvenience cannot go up; obstacles to trade or innovation cannot go up; obstacles to efficiency, productivity or profitability cannot go up; and a sanction that affects the carrying out of a lawful activity cannot go up.
It is in that context—the context of the Bill—that those of us who have heard the very reassuring words of the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, whom we all respect in this House, are caused to be suspicious. When the Government kick back so hard and so thoroughly on what I think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, very rightly characterised as a modest amendment, we become more suspicious yet. The very fact that the Government are resisting this amendment is the reason we need it.
My Lords, I wonder whether we could reflect on the House of Commons Select Committee’s report on the state of things at the moment in Defra. One of my worries is whether the Government are in a position, frankly, to understand just where we are on this. After all, it turns out from that very powerful Select Committee report that Defra actually transacted 14 million transactions manually because its systems do not actually cover what needs to be done. In those circumstances, I am not sure that any of us can be sure that the Government can assess where they are on these matters, because of the difficulties which they have with not funding satisfactorily the department which is supposed to deal with this, or any of its agencies such as the Environment Agency and Natural England. In those circumstances, I very much hope that the Minister will be kind enough to help me on this, in his usual charming way—
I say that to try to make sure it continues to be a good-natured debate. There is no doubt that many people who are not antagonistic to the Government do not want to rely on the excellence of the present Minister, but want to make sure that future Ministers do this job as he, I am sure, would hope to do it himself. Therefore, the question here is: given that we have doubts about the efficacy of the department most responsible for it—not because of our own concerns but because of the House of Commons Select Committee—and given that he will surely want other Ministers to follow him in the attitudes which he has displayed, would it not be more sensible to put this into the law, as indeed the Law Society itself has suggested? I think I am right in saying that every exterior independent body, including the Government’s own watchdog on this matter, agrees. I remind the House of my own interests, as declared in the register of interests: not only the things I do outside but also my chairmanship of the Climate Change Committee. I just feel that the world would be more assured that the kind of attitudes which we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, for example, will be the attitudes enforced in the future. That is all we are asking, and I do not quite understand why that is unreasonable.
My Lords, I listened with great interest throughout Committee to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and his very reasonable and constructive proposals for protecting our environment. But it is time to move on to UK law, which is more transparent and will save the taxpayer the cost of having to pay for a dual system of EU and UK law. Yes, we are already committed by international obligation to our international treaties, but it is ironic that many of the problems which we hear considered have arisen under this dual system of arrangements. I am afraid that I will not support the noble Lord’s amendment. I hope the Government will get on with it, and we will move to restoring UK law over this vital environmental sector so we can all have the protections we need for the environment and hold the Government to account.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for bringing this amendment forward and assure him of our full support. We heard from him that, in response to comments made by Ministers on Report, the amendment has been altered to focus on enshrining a legal commitment to maintain existing levels of environmental protection, and that he has taken into account much of what was said during that debate.
One of the things that we debated is how much of the Bill has significant implications for environmental law and for many regulations of significant public interest protecting our natural environment and many aspects of our health so, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said in his introduction, and others have said, it has been pretty disconcerting to hear the Government describe commitments to maintain existing levels of environmental protection as burdensome. I find that quite shocking. We know that there is wide-ranging support for an environmental non-regression principle. Amendment 15 would give legal substance to what Ministers have been saying they want to achieve. In fact, in his introduction, the Minister said that the Government are committed to maintaining high environmental standards; the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, said that; and the Minister in the other place, Trudy Harrison, said that. However, as a matter of law, just because somebody says something provides no assurances or protections and, however welcome it is, it cannot bind the hands of any future Ministers, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has just said.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned concerns that some regulations that we need may well be lost. I want very briefly to give an example, which is the intention to remove some items relating to the national air pollution control programme—the NAPCP. Removing the obligation to draw up and implement the programme strips away any clear duty on the Government to show how they will reduce emissions in line with their legally binding emissions targets. The Government say that by repealing this item they can better focus on what will help clear the air, such as delivering on the targets set in the Environment Act. In this debate, the Government repeatedly cite the existence of the Environment Act as the reason why such amendments are not necessary, and no doubt the Minister will repeat that shortly. However, if we look at Regulation 10 of the National Emissions Ceilings Regulations 2018 and the associated implementing decision, we see that the Government are clearly required to consult the public as part of the process of preparing and revising the NAPCP. This is in stark contrast with the approach they took with the revised environmental improvement plan earlier this year where there was no public consultation, very limited stakeholder engagement and limited transparency over which stakeholders were contacted—yet the Minister in his introduction held the EIP up as something to which we should aspire. Given that there is currently no provision in the Environment Act to require any public consultation in relation to future revisions of the EIP, how will the Government ensure that the public do not lose their ability to contribute and to have their say?
I also want to look at some of the powers in the Environment Act and how they are constructed. For example, it includes a non-regression commitment in respect of one piece of REUL, the habitats regulations. This empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations to amend part of the habitats regulations
“only if satisfied that the regulations do not reduce the level of environmental protection provided by the Habitats Regulations”.
So I consider it relevant in today’s debate to look at why the Government opted to include this non-regression safeguard in law.
During the passage of the Environment Act, the Minister, at that time the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, explained that
“the clause includes a number of safeguards that are designed to retain our existing protections”,
recognising the importance of underpinning commitments in law. He went on:
“Ministers will have to be satisfied and explain to Parliament that any change would not reduce our existing environmental protections, and Parliament will have a vote on any use of the powers”.
He also explained that consultation on any proposals would be comprehensive and that there would be
“a full impact assessment of any regulations made under the powers, when bringing them forward”.—[Official Report, 12/7/21; cols. 1620-21.]
If the Government were committed to such a safeguard in the Environment Act, which was brought in only in 2021, why are they so against making a similar non-regression commitment on maintaining existing levels of environmental protection in law in this Bill?
As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, this is very uncontroversial. I await the Minister’s response with interest, but if the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, wishes to test the opinion of the House, he will have our strong support.
My Lords, I can keep my response brief. I have lost track of the number of times during the passage of the Bill that we have had this debate. We had it in Committee, on Report and we are having it now—and of course it was repeated in the House of Commons. The House of Commons has heard the assurances of the Government. I suspect that nothing else I can say will change most Members’ minds but, for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, I will repeat the arguments again.
The noble Lord’s Motion proposes to insert additional measures into the Bill on environmental protections. I appreciate the sentiment, and we recognise the importance of maintaining our environmental standards, but the Government do not believe this amendment to be necessary. The UK is a world leader in environmental protection, despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, wants to tell us, and we will continue to uphold our environmental protections. Furthermore, in a debate in the other place, the House of Commons rejected essentially a similar amendment by a majority of 77.
We are committed to our environmental protections. Nothing in this Bill changes that commitment. As I referenced in my opening speech, we have substantive concerns that this amendment, in the way that it is worded, would actually make it more difficult to uphold those environmental commitments. I hope that, if the Motion is moved to a vote, the House will reject it.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate, and I thank the Minister for his response. I will not speak for very long but I want to make three specific comments in response to particular points that have been made.
The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, referred to food standards. I remind noble Lords that this version of the amendment does not include food, so the noble Lord can relax in his seat and not worry about food.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, seemed to imply that the amendment would somehow fossilise existing regulations in relation to the environment. It is not about fossilising existing regulations; it is about allowing change and improvement as long as they do not dilute environmental protection and as long as they are made in consultation with, and on the advice of, experts, and that that advice is published. This is not trying to freeze things in 2023 at all. I hope that provides reassurance.
As a final point, in response to the Minister, who repeated the oft-quoted mantra that the UK is “world-leading” in environmental protection, I remind him of what I read out less than half an hour ago from the Government’s own watchdog. It makes grim reading. We are failing on all the targets that the OEP looked at. We are not world-leading; we are struggling. This simple and modest amendment aims to put further legal protections around what the Government claim they are doing anyway; it is simple, modest and straight- forward.
I would not like to be the one going home to explain to my children and grandchildren that I stood up and voted against protecting our environment. I hope that other noble Lords feel the same—that those who have children or grandchildren and are thinking of the future would want to protect the environment on their behalf. Therefore, I wish to ask the House to agree to Motion C1.
16A: In subsection (2)(c), at end insert “including specifying in a list such provisions of retained EU law as is intended to be revoked or reformed”
16B: Leave out paragraphs (3)(b) to (3)(d) and insert—
“(b) each subsequent period of 6 months, subject to subsection (3A). (3A) The last reporting period ends with 23 June 2026.”
16C: After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) The plans that must be set out under subsection (2)(c) must include a list of the provisions of retained EU law which His Majesty’s Government intends to revoke or reform.”
Motion D agreed.
42A: Because the Commons consider the scrutiny procedure imposed by the Lords Amendment to be inappropriate.
Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)
42B: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Parliamentary scrutiny (1) A Minister of the Crown may not make regulations under section 15 unless— (a) a document containing a proposal for those regulations has been laid before each House of Parliament, (b) the document has been referred to, and considered by, a Committee of the House of Commons (‘the Committee’), and (c) a period of at least 30 days has elapsed after that referral, not including any period during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or either House is adjourned for more than four days. (2) If the Committee determines that special attention should be drawn to the regulations in question, a Minister of the Crown must arrange for the instrument to be debated on the floor of each House and voted on before the period in subsection (1)(c) elapses. (3) If any amendments to the regulations, whether or not proposed by the Committee, are agreed by both Houses of Parliament, the regulations must be made in the form so amended.(4) If one House agrees amendments to the regulations under subsection (3), the regulations may not be made until the other House has debated and voted on a motion to agree or disagree with those amendments.””