All 31 contributions to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Tuesday 25th October 2022

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Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Dean Russell Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Dean Russell)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

News of my promotion to Secretary of State has been exaggerated, but as Minister I will do my best this afternoon. I pay tribute to—I will not say predecessor—the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). Without his staunch and hard work, and his passion to help families and businesses across the country to survive the difficult winter that is coming, and ensure that the energy support would be there, a lot of families would be very worried this winter. I pay tribute to him for his work. It is honourable of him to be here during this speech.

On 31 January the Government announced plans to bring forward the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which is the culmination of the Government’s work to untangle the United Kingdom from nearly 50 years of EU membership. Through the Bill we will create a more agile and innovative regulatory environment that would not have been possible were we still a member of the European Union. That will benefit people and businesses across the United Kingdom. The Government have achieved much since leaving the European Union and taking back control of money, borders, laws and our waters. We have created a world-leading covid vaccine programme, and signed 35 deals with 70 countries around the world. We accept that there is still more to do, and in January this year we set out our approach to becoming the best regulated economy in the world.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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How will the Minister answer the intemperate correspondence to which many of us have been subjected, announcing that the Bill will provide for the rape of the countryside and the destruction of wildlife? Will he be able to persuade people that this is a proportionate measure that will allow us to choose the regulations by which we wish to live, and judge them on their merits?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I think that is the longest intervention I have ever heard my right hon. Friend make. He is absolutely right. The premise of the Bill is to ensure that we do what we have always done, which is to be the best place in the world to live, and that includes our environment. It is an absolute priority of this Government that the United Kingdom will be the best place to start and grow a business, to live, and to ensure that our environment around us is supported at all times. Within the Bill are powers that will allow us to make good on that promise.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I will give way in a little while; I want to make some progress. The Bill will enable outdated and often undemocratic retained EU law to be amended, repealed and replaced more quickly and easily than before. That will remove burdens on business, and create a more agile and sustainable legislative framework to boost economic growth.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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Will the Minister be honest with the House? He says that the Bill will allow us to have the highest standards, but clause 15 formally confirms that we can only go down, and we can only have a race to the bottom, because it talks explicitly about not increasing burdens. Will the Minister tell the House who voted to lower our environmental protections in the referendum?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I can be very honest in saying that the Bill will ensure that we have the highest standards, and within the process of this framework we will ensure that the burdens of delivering the best possible regulatory scheme are removed, while ensuring that we have the highest standards across all we do.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I will make some progress.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I will come back to the hon. and learned Lady shortly.

As has been alluded to, some naysayers have asked, “Why is the Bill needed?” As a consequence of the oddities created by our previous EU membership, there are currently insufficient powers to make subordinate legislation to enable the amendment or removal of retained EU law from the statute book. The practical result is that standards do not get updated when they should be. Regulation, rather than adapting to support the needs of businesses in stable and emerging markets, ends up holding British businesses back. That is simply wrong, particularly when businesses and consumers face high energy bills and food prices as well as the many other challenges that we know are down to world events, and in particular the awful actions of President Putin. With our new-found freedom, it is important that we take the necessary powers to bridge the gap and reform legislation in a timely manner.

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con)
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The Minister is doing a fantastic job at the Dispatch Box. At oral questions this morning, Opposition Members were complaining about red tape and bureaucracy hamstringing small businesses. Does he agree that that means they will hopefully support the Bill in the Lobby tonight?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill is about cutting red tape where it is not needed and ensuring that businesses can spend more time transforming their business than filling out forms. We have a great opportunity to deliver for them and for people across the nation.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I will make some progress and give way in a while.

As I said, rather than adapting to support the needs of business, regulation has potentially been holding British businesses back, and we have an opportunity to deal with that. To ensure that the devolved Administrations can also seize fully the benefits of Brexit, we are providing them with the tools to reform retained EU law by extending the majority of powers in the Bill for use by devolved Administrations. It is a great opportunity—

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I am sure that many hon. Members are standing up to say how pleased they are with that announcement.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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As someone who fought to free ourselves from the shackles of Brussels, I welcome the legislation. Does the Minister recognise that the passing of the Bill will make it even more imperative that the Northern Ireland protocol be removed, because those freedoms would not be available to the Northern Ireland Administration, which will still be bound by EU laws?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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The right hon. Member makes an important point. This is about the United Kingdom and making sure that every single person across this great nation, wherever they live, can do and be their best in all that they do.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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I strongly support the Bill and congratulate the Minister on his presentation. I hope that the Government will urgently reform the energy directives and regulations that have made us cruelly import-dependent such that we now have to buy excessively expensive energy on the world market when we should drive for self-sufficiency.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. It is ultimately about ensuring that we are doing the right thing by people across the country. The truth is that the Bill is a framework, and this is not the time to debate the minutiae and the details as there will be plenty of opportunities for that in Committee, the future stages and statutory instruments. We should welcome the Bill’s framework, which is about taking back control for the country.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
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The Minister said that the Bill is about doing the right thing by people. Earlier, I understood him to say that there will be no diminution in rights as a result of it. However, has he not looked at clause 15(5), which makes it clear that, far from creating higher standards, replacement legislation can only keep standards the same or lower them? That is the case, is it not?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I very much enjoyed serving with the hon. and learned Lady on the Joint Committee on Human Rights and understand that she is incredibly focused on detail. There will be much time for her to explore that further if she makes a speech; I hope that she will. The point of the framework is to transfer EU law into UK law and make sure that it does what it should. If she is happy with EU law where that is retained, it will be written in UK law.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I will come back to the hon. and learned Lady in a little while.

Andrea Leadsom Portrait Dame Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con)
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Has my hon. Friend noticed, as I have, that Opposition Members seem to think that the only place that can possibly regulate, possibly have high standards and possibly deliver laws for this land is the EU? Does he agree that, actually, we have created much better regulation and far stronger standards that are much more flexible and suited to these islands than the EU and that we should carry on doing that?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I thank my right hon. Friend—she is a very good friend—for her comments. The Bill is ultimately about making sure that we continue to do what we have done for decades, if not centuries: exporting high-quality products, exporting doing the right thing and exporting making sure that the world is a better place.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I will continue; I have taken quite a few interventions.

We have carefully considered how the Bill will affect each of the four great nations. We recognise the paramount importance of our continuing to work together as one on important issues, including environmental protections. The Bill will not weaken environmental protections.

Robin Walker Portrait Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is doing a great job. It is right that, six and a half years after the referendum, we should get on with the process of taking control of our laws.

I served for two years in the Department for Exiting the European Union and gave many assurances in those years that, as we left the EU, our environmental standards and animal welfare regulations would be improved and strengthened, not weakened. Will he assure me that Ministers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will meet the Conservative Environment Network and our Wildlife Trusts to ensure that nothing is done in the process of the Bill to undermine our leadership in the nature protection space?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I thank my hon. Friend and applaud the briefing that the CEN gave Members earlier today. Ultimately, this is about making sure that we are the best place in the world to live. On meetings, I assure him that we will engage widely—including with Opposition Members—and deliver on those promises. We will use the powers in the Bill to ensure that our environmental law is functioning and able to drive improved environmental outcomes, with the UK continuing to be a world leader in environmental protection.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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The Minister said earlier that the Bill was proportionate, but that is exactly what it is not, particularly given the sunset clause that means that DEFRA will have to go through revising and amending more than one piece of law a day between now and the end of next year. It is not proportionate; it is indiscriminate. It is also ideologically driven. Does he agree that DEFRA staff have better things to be doing, given that they are already late on the river basins management programme and the 25-year environment plan, and that the idea that the Department has the staff and resources to do that is irresponsible?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I totally disagree, but I thank the hon. Lady for the intervention. Let me remind her that the Conservatives were the green party before the Green party. We are the party of the environment and will continue to be so. We were the party that made sure that businesses will not be able to put sewage in our waters, despite many Opposition Members making out that we voted for sewage. We did not—we made absolutely made sure that we are protecting our waterways. We are protecting our green fields and our land from top to bottom.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I will continue, because I have a lot to get through. I am sure that hon. Members have worked incredibly hard on their speeches, and I would like to listen to them.

As I said, we will use the Bill’s powers to ensure that our environmental law is functioning and able to drive improved environmental outcomes. The former Secretary of State did an excellent job recently meeting representatives of environmental groups alongside the environment Minister and assured them of the work that we will do. I am sure that that will continue.

As well as maximising the benefits of Brexit across the UK economy, the Bill will enable the Government to take the necessary steps to put our statute book on a sustainable footing by removing or replacing more than 2,500 laws derived from the UK’s membership of the EU, many of which are outdated and unduly burdensome. Earlier this year, the former Secretary of State—it irks me to have to say that—invited the House and members of the public to review the mass of legislation for themselves through the retained EU law dashboard, which was published in June and is available on gov.uk. That treasure trove of reform opportunities has acquired more than 100,000 views so far. I thank the public, businesses and civil society organisations for their invaluable views and input.

Together, we have identified where retained EU law must be excised from our statute book. Now, using this Bill, we will go further and faster to capitalise on the opportunities of Brexit. We will achieve that by addressing the substance of retained EU law through a sunset which means retained EU law will fall away on 31 December 2023 unless there is further action by Government and Parliament to preserve it. A sunset is the most effective way to accelerate reform across over 300 policy areas and will incentivise the rapid reform and repeal of retained EU law.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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What is the justification for allowing Ministers to scrap legislation that currently applies simply by doing nothing because of the sunset clause? I have never seen anything like it before. What is the justification for allowing law to fall away if Ministers decide, “Well, I’m not going to address it at all”?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. He was a staunch advocate of not leaving the EU, and I appreciate that that is his view. To answer the question, the goal here is that we are looking at all those laws. It is actually public on the dashboard; there is an opportunity for everybody to engage. On the framework of the Bill, there will be a Committee stage, and the ability to have parliamentary scrutiny is huge. I would make one other point, however. At what point were we able to scrutinise these laws when part of the EU? We were not. All those laws were put in without scrutiny and without the ability for us to do the work we needed to do. We are now taking back control to this country to deliver on the promises we made to the people and on the referendum they voted in.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I will not take many more interventions. I will continue for a short while.

Prior to 31 December 2023, the Government will determine which instruments should be preserved, which should be reformed and which should be revoked. I commend colleagues from across all Departments for their gallant efforts in establishing ambitious reform plans that will help to drive growth. We are already in the process of removing outdated retained EU law in financial services through the Financial Services and Markets Bill and have already repealed outdated rules, which has enabled us to capitalise on tax freedoms.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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I thank the Minister for giving way. He is making the case for the constitutional importance of the Bill. As I asked him in Westminster Hall last week, will he not accept that the timetable proposed by the Government in the programme motion is wholly inadequate for the scrutiny of a Bill of such constitutional importance? If he will not commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House, can he at least guarantee that we will have longer than a day on Report, so that it can receive the scrutiny it really deserves?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I thank the hon. Member for his comments and for taking part in the debate last week. To be honest, we would have had more time today to debate if we had not played silly games earlier with votes and points of order, although I accept that they were important.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I will continue, if I may.

Prior to the date in the Bill, the Government will determine which instruments should be preserved, which should be reformed and which should be revoked. I repeat that because it is important. I commend colleagues across Departments for helping to ensure that we are driving growth. We are already in the process of removing outdated retained EU law in many areas. The Procurement Bill, for example, which is currently in the other place, replaces the EU procurement regime with a streamlined British approach, and of course DEFRA has made great headway over the past two years, taking us out of the common fisheries policy and common agricultural policy and pushing the boundaries of innovation thanks to Brexit, with two new pieces of legislation on gene editing.

The Bill will help us to sweep away outdated and obsolete EU legislation, paving the way for future frame- works better suited to the needs of the UK, including on energy, emissions trading, services and consumer law. Many in this House have claimed that changes to individual pieces of legislation will not make a difference. I could not disagree more. We must address the EU legislation holistically. By making marginal improvements across a whole host of regulation, we can foment a revolution in the margins and radically improve the UK’s competitiveness and productivity.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I have given way quite a lot today, and I want to at least get to the end of my speech while I am still in post!

For example, there are 33 individual pieces of retained EU law relating to eco-design requirements. I posit that it would be easier for business to comply if there was just one piece of legislation covering all relevant goods, providing a strong market incentive for businesses to increase energy efficiency. There are countless examples across Whitehall of where the Bill enables positive changes, from improving the clinical trial process to establishing sensible and proportionate artificial intelligence regulation, while still being very mindful of the rules around the impact on the culture sector and on many others.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way and I congratulate him on doing such a sterling job under such difficult circumstances.

I recognise that it will be necessary to make changes to retained EU law that was never intended to be permanent, and there are good reasons for doing that, but there is a concern that doing it in the way proposed will add to legal uncertainty. The former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), kindly wrote to me as Chair of the Justice Committee to say that officials from the Department had engaged with the judiciary on how the Bill will work in relation to the interpretation of retained EU law and changes to it. Can the Minister help me, having had the benefit of discussions with the judiciary, with how the proposed changes will improve legal certainty, which of course is itself important for business certainty?

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. One of the key things for certainty is having a clear date and a point when it will all happen. Uncertainty often comes by not knowing. We were going to have to make sure that the sunset clauses came in at some point. If I am still in post, I will gladly continue to meet him. If I am not, I will make sure that the person who comes in after me—a bit like “Doctor Who” and David Tennant emerging from the TARDIS this week—continues that work. I look forward to that.

After consideration of the retained EU law dashboard, the former Secretary of State took the decision to exclude Acts of Parliament and Acts of the devolved legislatures from the sunset. The content of those Acts largely concerns the operation of domestic policy. As they have all been properly scrutinised and reflect the will of the public as enacted through democratically elected representatives, we will make sure of that. Given the practice of qualified majority voting in the EU, the same cannot be said for most other parts of retained EU law. That is why it is right we have the review and make plans to amend that law now. I remind Members that our constituents voted for us to be here to make decisions on laws that affect them. The idea that we should not be doing that and the idea that we are trying to say, “Let us keep it as it is” feels very wrong to me.

I accept, however, that some retained EU law in the scope of the sunset is required to continue to operate our international obligations, including the trade and co-operation agreement, the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol. Therefore, I am very happy to make a commitment today that the Government will, as a priority, take the necessary action to safeguard the substance of any retained EU law and legal effects required to operate international obligations within domestic law. We will set out where retained EU law is required to maintain international obligations through the dashboard, so that the public can scrutinise it. However, the sunset and the powers in the Bill are not enough to fully reclaim our parliamentary sovereignty. That is why I am also delighted to confirm once again that the Bill abolishes the principle of the supremacy of EU law. It is just absolutely absurd that in certain situations foreign law takes precedence over UK statute passed before we left the EU.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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I am afraid I will make progress, because I can see the Opposition Front Bencher itching to get up and speak and comment on my speech.

By ending this constitutionally outrageous and absurd provision on 31 December 2023, we will ensure that Acts of Parliament passed during our membership of the EU will be returned to being the highest law in the land. The will of those past Parliaments as expressed through primary and secondary legislation will no longer be secondary to the will of Brussels.

The Bill will unlock growth across the United Kingdom. As we seize the benefits of Brexit and restore a sovereign approach to law and regulation, we can again legislate in support of the UK’s interests, rather than those of Brussels. This is of particular importance now, as our country pushes forward to recharge our economy in order to make the UK the best place in the world to run a business—[Interruption]—whether you want to live here, whether you want to walk in a beautiful green field in a park in our wonderful, beautiful lands of the UK—[Interruption]—or whether you want to start a business or grow a business—[Interruption.]

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. I have let this run, but I have had enough now. The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) must stop shouting at the Minister. It is not appropriate behaviour and it gets us nowhere. She will have an opportunity to make a speech. If the Minister wishes to take her intervention, he will take it as he has taken other interventions, but she must stop shouting at him.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have no issue with Opposition Members shouting, but I think that they perhaps sometimes do it a little too much. We want to make this country the best in the world; I have taken many interventions and hopefully that has been recognised. I commend the Bill to the House.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I call Justin Madders—[Interruption.] Forgive me—I was totally prepared for a change of personnel on the Government Front Bench, but I had no idea that there would be one on the Opposition Front Bench. I call Jonathan Reynolds.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
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May I say what a pleasure it is that normal service can be resumed, and that I am now able to speak slightly more freely than I may have done when I sat in a different place? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his particularly brilliant speech. I think it was particularly brilliant because I was involved in writing it; I may therefore be a rather prejudiced audience, but I thought it was delivered with panache and verve. He took so many interventions and put the case brilliantly.

I know that it is not orderly to mention people in the Galleries, but I do not know whether the officials’ Box counts for that purpose. Nevertheless, I would like to thank the officials who have been involved with the Bill. They have done a terrific amount of work to get it ready in a short time. I confess to the House that when I was Leader of the House, I thought that getting the Bill ready for Second Reading by this date would not be possible, but the work that has been done is absolutely terrific. Let me reassure those who may think that I have sometimes criticised the civil service that in this instance it is worthy of paeans of praise.

The Bill is of fundamental constitutional importance because it removes the supremacy of EU law. We have heard arguments about certainty. Certainty, certainty—everyone always wants certainty. In an uncertain world, I am not sure that certainty is ever possible, but in a legal context the Bill provides more certainty than the alternative, which would be to retain two different legal systems in these islands of ours that would apply in different circumstances. I know that we have Scottish law, English and Welsh law and Northern Ireland law, but we would have a separate law applying differently in each of those three jurisdictions. We are now removing that, so the law made and voted for by people in this country will be the supreme law. That is surely right.

The issue of supremacy is of constitutional importance. Anybody who opposes the removal of the supremacy of EU law is fighting the Brexit battle over again, saying, “We didn’t really leave after all. We’d like to pretend we’re still there. Isn’t it nice to allow this alien law to continue to tell us what we ought to do?” No, it would not be nice to do that. Let us clarify the law. Let us get as close to certainty as humanly possible, so that we have a sensible, intelligent and well-formulated statute book.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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For some of us, the point is not the constitutional argument about which laws should be sovereign, which we may well happily accept, but the practical issue of how we convert literally hundreds of laws, for DEFRA and so on, within the timescale imagined. Does my right hon. Friend understand the severe doubts that many people have about the practicality of what is on offer?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I am afraid that my hon. Friend has never liked the decision to leave the European Union, and everything he says must be taken in that context. Otherwise, he would not have intervened—

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I am not giving way again. Otherwise, my hon. Friend would not have intervened at this stage, because I was setting out the issue of supremacy before coming to the crucial point about why the Bill is now necessary and how it works in practice.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I give way to my right hon. Friend.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.]

--- Later in debate ---
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I appreciate the sensitivities. The hon. Gentleman knows that the content of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech is not a matter for the Chair, and not one on which I will comment, but he has made his point.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I now give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom).

Andrea Leadsom Portrait Dame Andrea Leadsom
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all the work that he has done. I was actually hoping to clarify the point that our hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) was making. Having myself held the role of Leader of the House during that attempt to leave the EU between 2017 and 2019, I recall that the House was able to get through some 800 or 900 pieces of secondary legislation. In my opinion, it is very much within the realms of possibility that this amount of legislation can and will be dealt with by the House very successfully.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has made an excellent point. The ability of the House to get through its business is exceptionally good, and it is able to do so in an orderly way, as my right hon. Friend showed in dealing with the no-deal Brexit legislation.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
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Given his commitment to scrutiny by the House, the right hon. Gentleman, who said that he was involved in drafting of the Bill, must have had sight of the draft programme motion as well. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which created retained EU law, was given eight days of scrutiny on the Floor of the House in Committee, and two days on Report. Does he really think that the time the Government are providing for scrutiny of this Bill is sufficient?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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There is always a discussion to be had about whether a few days in a Committee of the whole House or upstairs in Committee provides better scrutiny. People sometimes reach different conclusions on that, but there will be a proper opportunity for a Committee stage upstairs, and I think that is perfectly reasonable.

I want to go back to the fundamental point about the supremacy issue. Let me reiterate that anyone who opposes the Bill is in fact re-fighting the Brexit battle.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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I thank my right hon. Friend for all the great work that has been done on the draft legislation. Does he not find it an odd paradox, or contradiction, that many Opposition Members come to this place apparently to form laws but do not believe we can ever make a law that is good, and we need to rely on EU law in so many areas where I think we can actually do better?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is wise, as always. But it is even odder than that, because there is this very strange view that laws that came in without any scrutiny at all—regulations of the EU that became our law automatically—cannot be removed without primary legislation. That is just bizarre.

The laws with which we are dealing came in under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act. Either they came in with minimum scrutiny but could not be amended or changed, or they came in with no scrutiny at all. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) disagrees with me on this, but we are not using this procedure to repeal Acts of Parliament. Even though these measures have the effect of introducing EU law, an Act of Parliament has had full scrutiny in the House, and to be repealed it deserves full scrutiny to be taken away. That is the correct constitutional procedure.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that some of us may be a little bit sceptical about the definition of democratic engagement that he has just set out? He is arguing that, for example, taking away laws that require cosmetics not to contain cancer-causing chemicals or laws on illegal trading—as well as maternity rights and TUPE—is a matter that does not require the scrutiny of the House, but only that of statutory instrument Committees. If he had been so wedded to restoring democracy, might he not have at least written the affirmative resolution procedure into these statutory instruments? Why he is taking back control, not for this House and the great democratic institutions—and he is now joining us on the Back Benches—but to No. 10?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not accept that construction of what is actually happening. The House will have the ability to focus on issues on which it thinks the Government are going in the wrong direction. Let me pick at random one of the retained EU laws that may be reformed or become redundant:

“a common methodology for the calculation of annual sales of portable batteries and accumulators to end-users”.

Does the hon. Lady really think that deserves primary legislation—a count of batteries? That is what is in the 2,400 statutory instruments on the dashboard, and, as has been pointed out, that is not necessarily the full list.

There are all sorts of minor and unimportant things that need to be dealt with. As for those that are of major significance, it was said clearly at the Dispatch Box that environmental protections would be maintained. That is fundamentally important. It is a commitment from His Majesty’s Government to this House. The Bill will allow those protections to become UK law—which I use as shorthand to cover the three different types of law in the United Kingdom—to ensure that they can be enforced logically and sensibly by our courts in accordance with our legal maxims. That must be a right and certain means of proceeding.

It is interesting that people, having been told this, are still opposing the Bill. I come back to the conclusion that those who are opposing it actually do not like Brexit altogether.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the chance to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman. I was going to welcome him to his position, but I did not want to seem ironic. He says that we can take a guarantee from the Dispatch Box. Even the Conservative party’s manifesto commitments no longer hold: we have seen that. How can we take the word of Ministers when even manifesto commitments no longer bind this Government?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman knows that Dispatch Box commitments have a very high standing in our political system. As Leader of the House, I was concerned that we were not using legislative reform orders as comprehensively as the legislation seemed to imply. In fact, the reason for that was a Dispatch Box commitment given by Paul Goggins, in the last Labour Government, during the passage of the Bill that limited the application of LROs to non-controversial issues. Dispatch Box commitments are actually a fundamental part of the way in which our discussion works, as the hon. Gentleman knows only too well.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely correct. This is an issue of the supremacy of this Parliament, and this law will enforce, and reinforce, the point that when we left the EU we made Parliament sovereign. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept, however, that the Bill will also highlight the fact that Parliament is not sovereign across the United Kingdom? Some of this cannot apply to Northern Ireland, where EU law past and future will still apply. If anything, the Bill could drive a greater wedge between Northern Ireland, constitutionally, and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am certainly concerned about that. In the last couple of days I had to sign off a couple of explanatory memorandums covering law that was going to come into Northern Ireland from the European Union. That is an unsatisfactory constitutional situation, which is why I am so supportive of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill that is in the other place today. That is something we must push forward with, to ensure that we have a unified legal system across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Bill creates several new powers that will not require UK Government Ministers to seek consent from the devolved Administrations, essentially retaining power over areas within devolved competence. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the impact of this Bill on the devolution settlement?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Scottish Parliament has been reluctant to give legislative consent motions to any Brexit-related legislation because of the politics of the SNP. That is a view that it has taken because it wanted to remain in the European Union—as the SNP, to its credit, argues for firmly and clearly on these Benches. The SNP is rather clearer about this state of affairs than the socialist friends we have in here who like to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. That inevitably means that, in my discussions with the devolved Administrations, there has not necessarily been a meeting of minds with the Scottish Parliament. But that is to be expected. This Bill in fact returns powers to the devolved Parliaments, because it gives them the authority to reform and repeal EU law too. They will be the decision makers over those areas that are devolved, so we are increasing devolution.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman will of course accept that the Welsh Government have similar concerns to those of the Scottish Government. The Welsh Government are run by the Labour party, which is a Unionist party. Indeed, the Counsel General of the Welsh Government, Mick Antoniw, has said:

“As currently drafted, this legislation could see UK Government Ministers given unfettered authority to legislate in devolved areas.”

These concerns are being expressed not just on the nationalist Benches but among Unionist colleagues.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know from my previous experience that His Majesty’s Government will observe the Sewel convention in relation to this. There may be occasions on which, for simplicity, the devolved authorities want the Westminster Parliament to move ahead with something on which everybody agrees, but what is devolved is devolved and the devolved Administrations will have the right to pursue it.

This Bill is not only one of constitutional importance that will get our statute book tidied up but one of massive opportunity. It presents an opportunity, not necessarily to do any one big individual thing—like the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which can change Solvency II involving billions of pounds for the economy—but to go through every single individual issue in detail, one by one, so that we can see, bit by bit, those rules that have made our businesses less competitive, those regulations that have put our businesses under more pressure and those intrusions that have made people’s lives less easy. We will be able to sweep those away, and we will be doing so in a proper constitutional process.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend previously served on the European Scrutiny Committee, as I still do. Does he recall the inches-thick paperwork that used to land in front of us on a regular basis? Despite the pleadings of the Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), that legislation never had any debate, and even if it had, there was little to nothing we could do about it. This is the true victory and the Brexit dividend that we can now face.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The ports directive was debated and debated, and opposed on both sides of the House, but it went through anyway. There was absolutely nothing we could do. This is why I challenge Opposition Members who say that this is not proper scrutiny. Why did they not object to the section 2(2) power? Why were they not joining my hon. Friend the Member for Stone on the European Scrutiny Committee to ask, week in and week out, why these laws were going through without anybody being able to gainsay them and why parliamentary sovereignty was not being upheld? We are restoring parliamentary sovereignty by ensuring that there is a parliamentary process, that Parliament will have its say and that we will have our own law for our own country.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I agree with the core of his speech about returning supremacy to British law and getting rid of EU supremacy. The way in which statutory instruments and the negative procedure have been used in this House has not always been satisfactory. For instance, covid regulations, past the time they had been implemented, were brought into operation and were inappropriate in many cases. I could give many other examples. As somebody who campaigned to leave the EU and is glad to get back control of our laws, I am disappointed that the process will not see full transparency of debate, because our regulations and laws are better when they are transparent and when different people can bounce their ideas off each other. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me?

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We must not have such long interventions.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The scrutiny of statutory instruments in this House is not all that it should be. I actually think that the other place does it better. I think there are too many statutory instrument Committees that look at things for two minutes before they all go home, but that is an issue we must face as a House to decide how we want to improve it.

My final point is that those who oppose the Bill seem to think that British politics and the British electorate count for nothing. They stand up and say that we will have no employment law protections—practically arguing that we will be sending children up chimneys. Do they think the British voter was born yesterday? Do they really think the British electorate and the British people will accept or vote for a party that takes away the protections they already have and enjoy? Are they unaware of the fact that our maternity leave protections antedate the European Union’s regulations, and have always gone further than those regulations?

What sort of a country do opponents of the Bill think we are? Why do they have no confidence in our democracy? Do they think that right hon. and hon. Members on this side, when standing on a parliamentary platform and going before our constituents, will say that we are going to have a burning of everything they like? Of course we are not. We will stand up for people’s rights, we will stand up for people’s dignity and we will stand up for the rule of law. Most of all, we will stand up for that fundamental right, that overarching right, that right on which all our constitutional freedoms are built and on which all human rights depend—the right of the ballot box.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (First sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage
Tuesday 8th November 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 8 November 2022 - (8 Nov 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I have a feeling that that might happen.

Sir Stephen Laws: Yes, I thought that it might happen too.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait The Minister for Science and Investment Security (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning. Now that we have left the European Union, is it right that the influence of retained EU law should be reduced in statute and in the courts?

Sir Stephen Laws: Yes, it is. EU law applied in a situation where we are not in the EU is quite difficult to work out. The provisions of the 2018 Act are extremely complex; they are glossed. A lot of the EU law was made in the context of trying to harmonise across Europe. When you are trying to work out what it means, you want to know what it is for, and what a lot of it was for is not now relevant. It is not about harmonising rules across Europe; it is about applying rules in a domestic context.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Do you agree that the Bill strikes the right balance between providing for legal certainty and allowing the Government to seize the opportunities of no longer being tied to EU law?

Sir Stephen Laws: On the whole, yes. I have some reservations, because there are respects in which the Bill contains worrying aspects through which it might be possible for inertia to reassert itself, and for the status quo to become the default for what replaces it. My experience of all legal change is that it is most effective when it is ratcheted—when people do not have the option of saying, “Oh well, we will exercise this power to keep things the way they were.” That needs to be watched carefully and, if possible, legislatively discouraged.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q You have already talked about the conflict between domestic law and laws made to harmonise across Europe, but, for the record, does not the fact that the EU legislates in a very different way from the UK create tensions between retained EU law and other domestic law?

Sir Stephen Laws: Yes, it does. The major difference between the way the UK traditionally legislates and the way the EU—and indeed lots of other countries—legislate is that under a parliamentary system the Government take responsibility for the effect and quality of the law. That means that when law is made, it is made to do something that people have agreed on. Very often, law made in Europe—in different languages as well—was a matter of agreeing words, irrespective of what the words achieved. If you could agree on the words, that was the best that you could hope for; that may happen very occasionally in my experience, and very rarely indeed in the UK. In the UK people agree on the substance, so you know what the law does. Retaining all this law that was there because it was a compromise on words is making life difficult for those people who have to use it.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning, Sir Stephen. One of the things that we were told about leaving the European Union was that it would return powers to Parliament. What does this Bill do to the balance of powers between Parliament and Ministers?

Sir Stephen Laws: Well, most of the law that this relates to—certainly the early clauses about subordinate legislation—is not law that Parliament made; it is law that Parliament enacted or approved because it had to. The law that will be made under the Bill will be made by a Government accountable to Parliament. The powers in the Bill are equivalent in some ways to the power under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, but in that case there was no choice about the substance of how you exercised the power; the argument was all about the means. Under this Bill, Parliament will have an opportunity to look at the substance as well as the means.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Professor Young, did you want to add anything?

Professor Young: To confirm what Professor Barnard was saying, it is important to recognise that although we have had six years to think about which laws to keep and which to remove, we have to put that against a backdrop of those not having been six usual years. We have also had to deal with covid, which generated lots of difficulties, and we are now dealing with energy crises and austerity. I fully accept that there is a need to think about which laws we retain and which laws we change, and that we need a period in which to think about that, but you have to recognise that there are other things on the legislative agenda that might make it difficult to have a complete list of all of them.

I agree that having a list of those laws that we have found will increase legal certainty. It would then also always be possible, once others are found, for the Government to enact regulations and say, “These regulations will be subject to the sunset,” or “These will be subject to a different sunset.” That would give us much more clarity, while still enabling us to change laws to build on the advantages brought by Brexit.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I am not sure whether anyone ever has a normal political year any more; I am afraid it is what it is. My first question is to Professor Barnard. Thank you so much for your evidence this morning. It has been said that the principle of the supremacy of EU law is

“alien to the UK constitutional system”.

As a creation of the Court of Justice of the European Union, it

“sits uncomfortably with established constitutional principles”

in the UK now that we have left the EU. Is it inappropriate for a non-EU country to still have instances where EU law takes precedence over its law?

Professor Barnard: Thank you for that question, Minister. Yes, at first sight, it looks rather unusual to have the notion of supremacy of EU law. You are absolutely right that it was a creation of the Court of Justice. That said, the 2018 Act essentially gave a parliamentary imprimatur to the principle of the supremacy of EU law in respect of retained EU law. Supremacy comes with quite a lot of baggage attached. Thinking about what supremacy means, it is essentially a conflict-of-laws rule—we have loads of them in the legal system. Where there is a potential conflict between two blocks of rules, a conflict-of-laws rule says which one will prevail in which circumstances.

The 2018 Act says very clearly that, in respect of pre-Brexit UK-retained EU law, if there is a conflict with EU law, EU law will prevail for the time being. However, there is absolutely nothing to stop Parliament legislating to reverse that in the future. The purpose of the 2018 Act was to ensure clarity, legal certainty and continuity. You have continuity with the snapshot approach taken by the 2018 Act. If you turn it off, which, of course, a sovereign Parliament is absolutely free to do, there will still be issues about how to manage conflicts between the rules. Indeed, the Bill makes provision for the supremacy provision to be turned back on if a Department decides it is necessary in its particular area.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Professor Young, when you gave oral evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee in its inquiry on retained EU law, you explained that EU law is drafted differently from UK law, and needs to be interpreted in the light of what type of retained EU law it is. What challenges do these drafting differences pose to both amending and interpreting retained EU law?

Professor Young: Thank you, Minister. It is a matter of recognising that EU law tends to be drafted by setting out the purposes that it is meant to achieve in certain circumstances. Directives have a different format from regulations; they set out the aims and purposes, and allow member states discretion in how to implement them, which is why so much of retained EU law is secondary legislation that was enacted by the UK to implement particular provisions of directives. In that sense, it tends to be drafted in a slightly different style. You also have to recognise that its main aim was harmonisation, so that might influence how it was drafted.

While the UK was a member of the European Union, we got used to understanding how EU law was drafted, and to interpreting it in line with background EU law principles, including the general principles of EU law. Obviously, one of the things this Bill will do is switch that off. You then have to think about how, without those general principles, we will interpret any of the retained EU law that becomes assimilated or is retained by regulations. We might have to think about not just retaining particular provisions through regulations, but whether we need to add elements to amend them or make them clear, so that we have a fuller understanding of how they are meant to apply in certain circumstances.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning to both witnesses. Professor Barnard, as we heard, this Bill sets an automatic date by which several thousand pieces of legislation will disappear off the statute book unless they are specifically left on. The number of such pieces of legislation, as we have just heard, is about 1,400 more than we thought this morning. Are you aware of any previous incident, either in the UK or elsewhere, where that approach has been taken successfully with such a large amount of legislation at once?

Professor Barnard: The simple answer is no; I am completely unaware of any precedent for this. Of course, that does not mean that we cannot try to adopt this approach, but we need to be extremely mindful of the associated risks. That is one of the reasons why we have proposed carving out areas, such as environment and social policy, that are already subject to obligations under the trade and co-operation agreement. That will ensure that we do not accidently turn them off but not turn them back on again through the powers in clauses 1(2), 2 or 12 to 15, and so will ensure that we are not subject to the trade and co-operation agreement’s dispute resolution mechanisms, which may result in tariffs being imposed on us.

--- Later in debate ---
Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes.

Tom Sharpe: Shall I kick off? I know that Martin has some fairly strong views on this. What the Department is trying to do here is to provide some illustrative guidance as to the reasons why people can depart. They could have done nothing and left it open to the court, which would have been unsatisfactory. By and large, judges, like all of us, need some help and guidance. As to the differences, the justification is the TuneIn case, Martin, is it not?

Martin Howe: Warner against TuneIn, yes.

Tom Sharpe: Why don’t you pick this up? It is your area.

Martin Howe: One feature of the 2018 Act, as you know, is that it made European Court judgments continue to be binding after exit in the interpretation of retained EU law. I would have preferred to see them just as persuasive authority from the beginning, but that is what the Act said. It gave only a very tiny exception, allowing the Supreme Court and the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland to depart, but only in circumstances where they would depart from their own previous decisions. It was extremely narrow. That was slightly widened by a statutory instrument under the 2020 Act, which expanded that to the Court of Appeal, the Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland and the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland, but it still had a very narrow test. I do not think, even if you got rid of all these restrictions, that the judiciary would actually make very many changes to or departures from legislation.

That comes out from the TuneIn case, in which the Court of Appeal considered a very unsatisfactory area of jurisprudence by the Court of Justice—a very technical area on communication to the public in copyright cases—and did not feel that it wanted to depart from that law, basically because it thought that to do that you have to almost legislate to fill in what you are replacing the judgments with. Judges are naturally reluctant to do that. My view of these provisions is that they are helpful. They slightly widen the circumstances in which there can be a departure, but are unlikely to make much practical difference. They will mean very few cases that see actual departures.

Tom Sharpe: May I add a supplementary? In answer to your specific question, clearly, the case law, which is the second provision in clause 4, is much broader. All sorts of case law is affected, and some would say infected, by European principles. What this is simply doing is inviting Parliament to say that the breadth of review can be triggered by any impact or any influence. It is really very broad—“determined or influenced by”. I think that is the justification for it, and I think it is sound. What is the point of having an imperfect means by which higher courts can be seized of these matters if they are important enough to go up to the higher courts?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning. There has been a lot of discussion about whether the Bill should be happening now and whether it should happen at all. My question is this: is now the right time for Government to reduce the influence of retained EU law in the UK statute books, as the Bill intends? I will turn to Mr Sharpe first.

Tom Sharpe: It is not the right time at all. This should have been started in 2016, and certainly the dashboard—the process of creation—should have happened then. When—or if and when—this is enacted, it will be, what, six years since the referendum? That is a very long time; it will probably be seven years when the Lords get hold of it. It seems to me that the promises that were made in the referendum and the obligations owed to those who voted for Brexit, which in turn, of course, were repeated in the 2019 election, have to be redeemed. It seems to me that it is appropriate for that to be done, and to be done by a means whereby good faith can be applied—that is to say, a balance between speed and comprehension, balancing the requirements of Government in order to get the legislation on the statute book with the interests of Parliament and the interests of stakeholders. It seems to me, as a general rule, that this is actually what it does.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Howe, I will ask a supplementary, because I know you are eager to answer the question as well. We have heard a lot, especially from the critics, saying that the Bill is not needed because the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 saved all the relevant EU law, and it has been suggested that the Act took a maximalist view on retaining EU law as, at the time, our future relationship with the EU was not yet known. What is your view on whether the Bill is necessary, and why?

Martin Howe: I think the Bill is desperately needed. The flaw with the 2018 Act is that it was clearly necessary to preserve what is now retained EU law on an interim basis until it could be reviewed and either kept or replaced or modified, but what was not necessary was making it impossible to change most of it except by Act of Parliament, which is what the 2018 Act did, and also to import a whole load of EU law doctrines on top of the legislation. It was all said to be for the purposes of legal certainty. In my view, it does not add to legal certainty; it generates legal uncertainties and allows vague things to be argued.

I have had a look to see what progress has so far been made in changing the vast body of EU retained law. There is one important Bill going through the Commons now, the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which would deal with that field, where we put in place our domestic policy choices.

There are also two further Bills that I have identified. One dealt with the Vnuk case, which was a case in the European Court that interpreted the motor insurance directive—in my view, misinterpreted it—to say that it applied to off-road vehicles, so things such as farm tractors would be compulsorily insured. That has now been corrected in our law, but only via a private Member’s Bill, which became an Act in April when the Government lent parliamentary time to the Bill. I think that the Government estimates are that it would have cost £2 billion per year—mainly to farmers, I suppose.

The other Bill, which is actually more important, is on the gene editing matter, where the European Court, in the case between the French peasants collective and the French Government, decided that the genetically modified organisms directive covered gene editing. Now, gene editing is a different technique from genetic modification. There is a lot of criticism of that judgment. It was completely unexpected and had very damaging effects, particularly on the life sciences industry in this country. That is subject to correction by a Bill that has just finished its Commons stages and has gone to the Lords.

Those are just two interpretations of two bits of EU law. That shows the complete impossibility of performing this exercise by primary legislation, and therefore how essential it is to have the statutory instrument power in the Bill. It is important to appreciate that the statutory instrument power does not apply to primary legislation, so Acts of Parliament that were passed in compliance with EU obligations are not within scope; only the secondary legislation is covered.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I assume, then, that you agree that the Bill allows for sufficient opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny.

Martin Howe: Well, it does. It is comparable to the parliamentary scrutiny that section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 allowed when most of these measures were introduced.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. Returning to Mr Sharpe, does the Bill, as drafted, strike the right balance between providing safeguards and enabling the removal of outdated retained EU law from our statute books?

Tom Sharpe: I see the Bill as a framework Bill. Of course, it gives Ministers and Departments very considerable powers—powers of proposal, as you know, to amend, revoke or replace existing legislation.

As Martin has just said, an Act of Parliament, which was probably passed—if I may say so respectfully—before many of you were born, provided an enabling power to enact legislation of some quite sweeping character. Despite all the things that law students learned about how Parliament needed to approve legislation, not one single regulation—this is one of the bits we are discussing—has ever been debated, approved or amended by the House of Commons or Parliament. That is a striking statement, but it is absolutely true. We were forbidden, in law, to debate or amend such legislation. I suspect you all know that, but it does not hurt to be reminded.

As for the directives, of course they, too, were approved by Parliament—or, more accurately, not disapproved—but the power of Parliament was utterly residual because the objective of a directive had to be observed. If it was not, the UK would be subject to proceedings from Brussels—and it was, on occasion, but not as often as many other countries.

We are now debating a system of revocation, amendment and replacement, and giving it far more formality than we gave the creation of the laws themselves. That ought to give us pause for thought. That is the background. As far as parliamentary scrutiny is concerned, yes, most of it will be subject to negative resolution, and it is easy to make what I will disrespectfully call a good debating point about the times when statutory instruments have fallen under the negative procedure. But here, we are dealing with a sea change. We are dealing with masses of legislation, as we know, all of which will be subject to significant scrutiny within the House of Commons by parliamentarians and by the press. It seems to me that those issues have to be given notice. There is also the sifting procedure that we adverted to earlier, which I think could be quite a powerful brake on Ministers’ discretion.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The evidence submitted by the Bar Council, which I assume you are familiar with, says very firmly that it has profound concerns about the Bill, and that its preference would be for the Bill to be withdrawn in its present form. Why has the Bar Council got it so wrong?

Tom Sharpe: Where do we start?

Martin Howe: I am concerned by the attitude taken by the Bar Council. As a subscribing member, I fear that it is trespassing rather too far into political issues. Unfortunately, I think there is a sort of small “c” conservative lawyer’s mentality, which has led over time to various things, such as counsel saying in the “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” trial, “Members of the jury, would you allow your wives or your servants to read this book?” Since so many members of the Bar are imbued with the system of working with European Union law—it is all part of their practice and the way they operate—there is a natural mental attitude towards keeping it. I do not think that reflects the necessities of the democratic process following the referendum result.

--- Later in debate ---
Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is fine.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning, Mr Fenhalls. You talked about scrutiny quite a bit. Most retained direct EU legislation has not been through a UK parliamentary scrutiny process, but you keep going on about scrutiny. How much oversight did the UK Parliament have over laws that came into effect under section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972?

Mark Fenhalls: I am sorry if you think I am going on about it. All I am doing is saying that there was a democratic process, which we were party to for several decades: we were members of the European Union, and we followed the lawful processes. We now have this body of law, which Parliament owns, and we are all looking for an opportunity for Parliament to say, “Let’s now take advantage of our departure from the European Union, put aside the conflict of the past and work out a better way.” We are all delighted by that. None of us is hostile to change. We just want change in a measured and balanced way, so that we know what the alternatives are.

The effect of the Bill—I was thinking about it as I listened to the previous speakers—feels a bit like the uncertainty and the uncosted promises made by the former Chancellor, which so disrupted the bond market. [Interruption.] You asked the question, Minister. The difference between that and the Bill is that we are being told to trust Ministers to see what will happen, and we have no idea what they will do. We have no idea what is being left or what will be changed. There is conflict between current Bills before Parliament, such as the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, and the Bill we are discussing, and we do not know how the Government propose to address it.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Mr Fenhalls, you said you are not hostile to change, but you have been nothing but negative about the Bill. You also mentioned a democratic process. There was another democratic process in 2016—just for the record.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good morning. In your submission from the Bar Council, Mr Fenhalls, you suggested that the Bill should be withdrawn. You have also accepted that we need to do something about the huge volume of retained EU law that we still have. What would be a better way to deal with all that law, rather than the way it is being dealt with in the Bill?

Mark Fenhalls: I am not a parliamentarian or a politician. The short answer to that is that I do not know, but I do know that every single stakeholder and lawyer I have spoken to—who are simply thinking about their clients’ business interests and the rights of the people involved—wants to know what the alternative proposals are before they take a view. The difficulty with this Bill is not change, because change in itself is fine; it is the fact that we do not know what the proposals will be. We have suggested what we suggested in our submission and we have put in fall-back positions saying that if the Bill is to proceed, we should put in place scrutiny measures or duties on Ministers to come to the House and say, “This is what we propose to do,” and not run the risk, for example, of the sunset causing us to crash into the wall at the end of next year.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Second sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage
Tuesday 8th November 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 8 November 2022 - (8 Nov 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q As an aside, when I quoted Hansard when I was in practice, I usually felt that that was because I did not have much else to go on. I go back to what Sir Richard said about the cost to parties of litigating these references. A lot of the EU regulations are consumer or employment rights-based. Unless you are a member of a trade union or have legal expenses insurance, you are not likely to have the resources to litigate cases upwards. Will that create an issue regarding access to justice if some of these issues get taken up?

Sir Richard Aikens: It is difficult to say. I cannot give you express examples, of course, and I am concerned only with the process, rather than any particular provisions that might be tested. Here, after all, we are looking at the issue of what the case law says, and how the case law has interpreted any particular EU regulation, directive and so on. It may be rather more limited, but as soon as you get into litigation, there are costs. We cannot get away from that.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait The Minister for Science and Investment Security (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I apologise for my phone ringing; I have switched it off. Mr Reynolds, the evidence in front of me suggests that you know a lot about business, and you have commented on the issue for a while. As someone who works with business all the time on regulatory affairs, do you think the Bill will add unnecessary additional costs and uncertainty, as others have claimed, or do you consider any such risks to be manageable or even beneficial?

Barney Reynolds: I think it will be beneficial as soon as we get through the process. Our system delivers greater legal certainty, which business craves, than the code-based method that we are coming out of, which has swept through our law in a number of areas, including my practice area, financial services law, which is almost all from the EU. I see it day to day. When we come out the other side—how quickly we get through is up to us—I think we will get those benefits.

The transition will probably involve some element of uncertainty arising from that, inasmuch as reinterpreting provisions interpreted using these EU techniques under our system, or wondering whether a judge is going to retain some of that element of interpretation or move completely to our own method, is unclear at the very beginning. I think that very quickly, after a few early court cases, we will get certainty on that. In fact—it is very interesting to hear Sir Richard talk—I think that the judges themselves will do their absolute utmost to make sure that legal certainty is there through the transition, and I would trust that process to work well. I have no real concerns even about the transition. Yes, there could be things that go wrong. If we try to craft it so that there is no conceivable possibility of something turning out in an unexpected way, we will deny ourselves the benefits that I have mentioned.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. I have a question for Sir Richard Aikens. The Government have made it clear—although I do not think it helps when the Government “make it clear”, because everyone assumes we are doing the opposite—that the intention of the Bill is not to remove rights and protections but to safeguard them by assimilating them into UK law and to sunset the laws that are unnecessary. Does the Bill deliver in that aim?

Sir Richard Aikens: May I start a bit further back? We are now in a situation where there is no EU law as such that affects this state, the UK. Everything we have here is, by definition, UK law. The question that has to be addressed is how you deal with that UK law, given its origin and the way it was treated and the way it was interpreted by the EU court, in particular. The whole of this Bill is an attempt to produce a process that enables what is now UK law to be dealt with, as I understand it, in a manner that is consistent with all other aspects of UK law.

Having set that as the objective, it is inevitable that you are going to have some problems on the way. The way in which this has been done means that the timescale is very short. To my mind, it is an almost impossible task to have the whole process done by the end of 2023. Frankly—you will say that I am pessimistic, perhaps too much so—I doubt whether it could be done by the end of 2026.

Given all that, it is inevitable that, because the process is almost entirely by secondary legislation, you are going to get challenges because people will think, rightly or wrongly, “That is a political matter, not a legal one”, or that the changes are not in accordance with the law or not in accordance with due process. I think that the way this has been fashioned is actually an invitation to litigation and an invitation to controversy. It may well mean that there are going to be challenges, because people feel that they have lost rights and that they are disadvantaged, and the manner in which it will have been done is through a short form of secondary legislation, which is not what you might imagine is the normal way of dealing with some of the big issues that have to be dealt with, such as workers’ rights, environmental issues and so on. This is a very difficult process.

Jack Williams: In response to that question, may I add that the outcome of the Bill may well be to preserve rights, but it is an absolute “may” and is entirely in the gift of Ministers. The Bill does not preserve rights or give any safeguards for that outcome to be achieved. That may be the outcome, but that is in the gift of Ministers. That is because the Bill sets one on an irreversible train track that leads to a cliff edge, and Parliament has not built in any breaks or stops on the train track to save or preserve those rights.

I have full faith in Ministers. I am sure that they want to do good for their constituents and to maintain rights. I love the fact that they are coming out and saying those words, but they are only words—it is not in the legislation. There is no legal protection for those rights in the Bill.

Barney Reynolds: I am not sure what the alternative would be. The Bill gives the system as a whole, as it were, the opportunity to execute on a shift that cannot be prescribed in advance, given the unprecedented volume and complexity. I have some limited relevant experience—I mentioned creating a system in Abu Dhabi—but one can go quickly. The main work there took 18 months, and I think that with the right size team we could go even quicker.

I note that in the Bill, the deadline is not in truth the end of 2023, because there are various ways under the switching back on powers in clause 13(6), (7) and (8), to allow even sunsetted provisions to be reinstated before mid-2026. In effect, there is a quick rush to do the main job, and an ability to tidy up things before mid-2026, which seems to be sensible.

You can choose different deadlines; you can debate all of these things. My basic point is that I am not sure quite how else one could do it if you actually want to get it done in any realistic timetable. Obviously, behind and above all that, Parliament will itself need to decide how, through a joint Committee, your Committee, or some other Committee, it wishes to oversee the process. That is a completely separate matter from the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call Stella Creasy.

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Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Could you set out what would make a proper scrutiny process for this legislation?

Dr Fox: You are inviting me to give away the Hansard Society’s review proposals before we have published them! We all know that the delegated legislation scrutiny process is, at various points, inadequate for everybody concerned. Ministers spend a lot of time attending delegated legislation Committees, carving out significant time in their diaries. You all spend time in those Committees and feel that they are not necessarily a constructive form of scrutiny and oversight. There are lots of problems with the process.

The triage system applied to European Union (Withdrawal) Act orders was a technical sifting of instruments. Those who participated in European statutory instrument Committees found that it was a useful exercise but a very technical and legal process. We feel that that could be widened and expanded. There is no reason why sifting could not apply to all the instruments laid under the Bill rather than just to those laid under three specific clauses. That would have implications for parliamentary time and management, but it could be a way of improving scrutiny. We would certainly extend sifting to clause 16, for example, which is quite an extensive power that is not sunsetted. Those are possible ways to improve scrutiny.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I feel that this is the right time to correct the record, because I am sure that Dr Fox would not want to say anything inaccurate on the record. Earlier, you referenced a National Archives story in the press, Dr Fox. We do not often talk about leaks, but I think you said either that it was “uncovered” or that it was “discovered”. For the record and for the Opposition’s understanding, the Government commissioned the National Archives to investigate whether anything else needed to be explored, and the number of the laws still in force has not been verified. I do not think it is appropriate to continue to use misleading language about a story that has not yet been verified, or to leave people in doubt about where the work came from.

Dr Fox and Sir Jonathan, you are not comfortable with what the Bill proposes, but I get the feeling that you are probably just not comfortable that we are trying stop EU law continuing to sit on the UK statute books for ever without us having any power to amend it. Is that the case, or do you see a time in the future when it would be appropriate to move EU laws off the UK statute books? I will come to you first, Dr Fox.

Dr Fox: I reject that. I am up for change and quite embrace it. This was the purpose of Brexit, was it not? We should therefore get on with it. I do not object to your objectives; I object to the particular nature of the process and procedure by which you are proposing to achieve them, which is unduly risky.

If, for example, you do not find a regulation or a piece of retained EU law and so do not deal with it by next December, it will fall away. You cannot know the implications of that if you do not know about, and have not dealt with, the existence of the regulation—that is my concern. As I set out in our written evidence, I think you could achieve your objectives, and indeed my objectives, in a different way.

Sir Jonathan Jones: I agree with that. Plainly, I have no objection to Parliament changing any law it wants, be it former EU law or any other law. I am sure that the EU law that we inherited when we left the EU is a mixed bag, and that some of it is ripe for review and change.

Like Dr Fox, the difficulty I have with the Bill is twofold. First, it creates a huge amount of uncertainty as to what the law will actually be by the end of 2023 or thereafter, because there are no policy parameters on what might change, what might stay or what might fall away. That is quite aside from the risk you have heard about—that some law might fall away simply by accident, because it has been missed, which creates a huge amount of uncertainty for users of the law.

The second issue that I have difficulty with is the lack of scrutiny—an issue that I know you keep coming back to and that Dr Fox touched on—by Parliament itself of the process. In the Bill, Parliament is not being invited to consider particular policy areas or particular changes to the law; it is simply signing off on a principle and a process, and I would say that the principle and process carry with them all that legal risk as to what the outcome will be. Those are the difficulties that I have. It is not a difficulty with Parliament being able to change any law it wants, including former EU law, whenever it wants to; it is the process being followed that I have difficulty with.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Another question we could ask is whether it is reasonable for Parliament to ensure that Ministers know the consequences of their legislation. What the National Archives work shows is that that is possibly not the case with the Bill.

I say that as someone who this week received something I had never, ever received before—I wonder, Dr Fox, whether you can advise me if this is common: a ministerial correction to an answer to a written question. The written question was to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the application of the legislation to the Avian Influenza and Influenza of Avian Origin in Mammals (England) (No 2) Order 2006. Originally, Ministers told me that the order was not made under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 and therefore did not fall within the scope of clause 1 of the Bill, but they issued me with a ministerial correction to admit that it did. Have there been other instances of Ministers not knowing the consequences of their legislation? What impact do you think that has on our ability to scrutinise legislation as parliamentarians?

Dr Fox: I cannot give you a number, but I am sure that there have been corrections of that kind. We also see that in respect of statutory instruments, where instruments have to be withdrawn and re-laid because of errors.

Clearly, one of our problems is that the complexity of law now, and the layering of regulations on regulations, coupled with inadequate scrutiny procedures, makes the whole scrutiny process incredibly difficult. Another problem is that the breadth of the powers in Bills which enable Ministers to take action, but do not define on the face of the Bill the limits and scope of that action, are very broadly drawn. That makes scrutiny incredibly difficult.

We also have amendment of legislation going through both Houses, and that adds layers of complexity. Particularly in the House of Lords, Members seek to introduce scrutiny constraints of the kind we have talked about in respect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. That is just additional complexity, which then hits civil servants trying to work out which powers they should be laying instruments under, and which scrutiny measures apply. For people who have to interpret and implement the law, it becomes ever more difficult.

I hope that one aspect of the review process would be to simplify some of those areas, with things like consolidation and so on, to help the process. However, given the scope and scale, I do not think that can be done by December of next year.

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

That is not a point of order for the Chair. I know the Minister—a very helpful Minister—will have heard the point, and I am sure something positive will be forthcoming.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

indicated assent.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Nodding is going on. I thank the witnesses for their expertise and advice.

Examination of Witnesses

Tim Sharp and Shantha David gave evidence.

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

It is a good time to turn to the Minister.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Ms David, did you mention eight bank holidays?

Shantha David: Yes.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q So we are going to lose our bank holidays. Are we going to lose the one we get for the coronation of the King?

Shantha David: I would not know. That is down to the Government.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q But you are speculating that we are. I am anxious about this constant speculation and the fear that it is creating. People on the Government side, and in the Opposition as well, have done a huge amount of work to ensure that women and vulnerable people are protected at work, so I have struggled with your evidence today and references to us falling back to the 1970s and 1980s.

The UK is leading in a number of these aspects. We were the first to introduce two weeks’ paid paternity leave in 2003; the EU has only just legislated for this. We have the highest minimum wage if you compare us to France, Germany and Japan. We are leading on paid bereavement as well. We have far more maternity leave with over a year; the EU has just 14 weeks. In April 2019 we quadrupled the maximum fine for aggravated breaches of workers’ rights, so the assumption that we are somehow going to fall into the 1970s, creating an atmosphere of insecurity, is not healthy.

I am sorry; I will get to the point and ask my question. The Government have stated many times in the past few years that we will not reduce rights and protections as we leave the EU, and the Bill contains powers that enable the Government to preserve and codify the REUL in a way that will incorporate it fully into UK law. What basis is there to be fearful of those rights diminishing? I do not want to hear speculation—we do not have enough time. I want to understand what basis there is.

Shantha David: I do not think this is speculation because, unfortunately, the Tableau does not provide a full list of legislation that is due to go. Without knowing what that is, it is impossible to know what will stay and what will go. It is imperative that the Government produce a list. The Tableau is the most incomprehensible piece of equipment. You have to put in random words to try and identify whether certain pieces of legislation will remain or go. The working time regulations contain the provision for the eight bank holidays. Whether they stay or go will be down to the Government, of course, but at the moment we do not know, and that is the biggest problem. It is the lack of clarity that is causing us the biggest headache.

Also, we are talking about 2,400 or 3,800—whatever the number is—pieces of legislation that are due to be sunsetted within a year. I understand they will simply go away at the end of next year unless something positive is done to replace them. If that is the case, yes, we will lose our rights to the 20 days of minimum annual leave entitlement. Women, who tend to be part-time workers, will not have the protections against dismissal and parity of treatment. And fixed-term workers, who also tend to be female, will not have their protections. Women who want to go back to the workplace and have the same employment and protection will not have that protection. You might think that is conjecture, but without knowing anything else, what else is there?

We need to have a comprehensive list of the legislation that is due to be affected. Once we know that, perhaps then we can be consulted as trade unions, as individuals and as members of the public so that we can have our say on what we want to keep. I do not think the Government intend to simply remove all legislation that assists workers and employees. I cannot imagine that that must be what the Government wish to do, so it would be helpful to have that information in front of us so that we can respond.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Minister?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is all.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call Stella Creasy.

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you. We turn to the Minister now.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q It was good to hear recognition of the UK’s long legacy of environmental and animal welfare protections. Often we have higher standards here than the EU does, so I struggle to understand the argument that we need to keep environmental laws that were introduced by the EU just because it was the EU, and that we cannot trust the UK Government, which introduced the Environment Act 2021. I cannot understand why you cannot trust your own elected officials here in the UK, who are accountable day in, day out.

My question is for Ruth Chambers. The review of the substance of retained EU law has uncovered more than 500 pieces of retained EU law owned by DEFRA. Many of those pieces of legislation relate to environmental regulations and protections dating back 20 years. Surely there is merit in reviewing the totality of those regulations, as the Bill provides for, to see whether they can be consolidated. Do you agree or disagree?

Ruth Chambers: It is certainly true that the body of retained EU law is ripe for being improved. That is what we would hope the processes of the Bill, or anything else, would lead to. Our concern is that the Bill would, either accidentally or if powers were misused in the future, not lead to those sorts of outcomes. Instead of the processes in the Bill, we would prefer a much more targeted approach that looks at retained EU law, and that picks the areas where the benefits to business are the greatest and environmental outcomes could be maximised, which Minister Trudy Harrison said, in answer to a written question, is DEFRA’s aim for reviewing retained EU law.

We are not opposed to reviewing the law, and we are definitely not opposed to improving it; we just do not think that the processes in the Bill will naturally lead to that outcome, especially when you look at clause 15, which we might have time to talk about. It basically makes the direction of travel of the Bill about deregulation rather than anything else.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q It is good that you agree with most of what the Bill is trying to achieve, compared with Dr Richard, who does not want the Bill at all, because it provides us with an opportunity to enhance the protections that we have. You shake your head, Dr Richard, but you are very clear that you do not want the Bill to be around at all. I love the way that you are representing a coalition, as it were, but fundamentally you are also an active Lib Demmer who campaigns to get elected all the time, so the neutrality of your evidence should be taken into account.

Ms Phoebe Clay, previously your organisation has accused the Bill of threatening to interrupt the Government’s target to halt the decline of nature in England by 2030. Can you set out how you consider that the Bill could interrupt a legally binding target that has been established by the Environment Act? We have a lot of lawyers this morning, and we want to contrast their evidence with yours.

Phoebe Clay: I think that is an ambitious target, and regulation has to be part of the pursuit of it. As Ruth has just said, the intent in the way that it is expressed at the moment is deregulatory. Our view is that, if that intent is pursued, we will struggle to stay on course with those broader objectives. It is worth stressing that is not just my organisation. Like Richard, we are a coalition. We represent a whole series of organisations across the spectrum, ranging from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to women’s institutes and a number of organisations working on worker protections. I guess it is worth underlining that this is not our position as a small coalition, but the position of all the other organisations that have signed up to that.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I think it is only fair to give Dr Benwell a chance to come back on the issue of neutrality, very briefly.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I respond to the response that was given a moment ago, to get clarity?

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Minister, you wanted to come back to Phoebe Clay.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Dr Benwell, earlier you said you wanted the Bill to stop—I am sure the transcript will provide that evidence. Ms Phoebe Clay, your organisation accused the Bill of threatening to interrupt the Government’s target to halt the decline of nature in England by 2030. You used the term “I guess”, but I do not want you to guess; I want you to tell me how we will interrupt the legally binding target of the Environment Act.

Phoebe Clay: I guess that we just want the guarantee that those environmental protections will remain in UK statute. At the moment, we do not think that the other providers—

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q But you have no evidence for that statement at the moment.

Phoebe Clay: We have the evidence that—

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What is the evidence?

Phoebe Clay: That these rules are not protected. We need to ensure that they will be.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My question is to Dr Benwell. Does your organisation have a position on the supremacy of EU law over UK law?

Dr Benwell: No.

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have until 4.33 pm, slightly to my surprise, so we have another 11 minutes to go. Minister, did you want to come in?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q We have spoken a lot about the word “burden”, and how it is creating anxiety. Obviously, you are having meetings and trying to get as much clarification as possible. I was just going through the transcript of the evidence provided by Professor Alison Young this morning—I am not sure whether you heard it at all. She noted that clause 15 specifies that no replacement legislation can increase the burden on business. That does not mean—I refer again to her evidence—that you can take a number of earlier burdens and just remove legislation. We can bundle legislation together, which could also reduce the burden, but it also means amending legislation so that we have a higher standard, too. We have to accept that there is an opportunity to increase standards. All we are saying is that we want to make sure that by increasing standards, we are not necessarily increasing the burden on business. Those two aims are not conflicting. Do you not agree that there is an opportunity here to make things even better?

David Bowles: indicated assent.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Some nodding from the panel, which is excellent news. I call Saqib Bhatti.

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Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have one final question. Have your officials done an analysis and come up with a figure on the numbers of regulations covered by the Bill?

Angus Robertson: We have begun to do that. I should say that when I asked Jacob Rees-Mogg—as the proposing Minister, you would have thought he might have known—how many pieces of legislation would impact directly on the UK Government but then also on devolved policy areas, he was not able to tell me. We have still not been told the scale of the legislative impact, but it will be very considerable. Consider what is devolved—environment, rural affairs, transport and a whole series of other things. It will necessitate the legal services of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament spending a lot of time dealing with the consequences of this Bill.

The problem could quite easily be solved by the UK Government simply acknowledging that there is no demand for this to happen from either the Scottish or Welsh Governments and simply carving out devolved areas. It would remain on the statute book here. If colleagues down south want to go ahead with that, I leave that up to them. We did not vote for this, and we certainly do not want it to happen, yet our parliamentary process and the way in which Government operates here is going to be deluged by trying to deal with this proposal, to which little to no thought has been given as to how it impacts on the devolved institutions of the United Kingdom.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Robertson, you have been crystal clear that you do not support any aspect of the Bill. The Bill provides for broad powers that the devolved Administrations will be able to use concurrently to preserve retained EU law. Will these powers not make it easier for Scotland to align its REUL more closely to the EU if it wants to?

Angus Robertson: The Bill confers significant powers on Scottish Ministers and UK Ministers in devolved areas. Where the powers are exercised by the UK Ministers, no role is afforded to the Scottish Ministers or the Scottish Parliament. In devolved areas, it is the Scottish Parliament that has a democratic mandate to hold Government to account. That is why we have consistently argued that where the UK Government have powers in devolved areas under this Bill, they should need the consent of the Scottish Government, which is of course scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament, in order to exercise those powers.

As it stands, the powers you highlight would allow the UK Government to make broad changes in retained EU law in devolved areas, including revoking and entirely replacing standards that we have inherited from the European Union. This Bill will introduce a massive democratic disconnect. I would hope that colleagues across the parties would realise that this is a huge challenge to the basic understanding of how devolution works.

I would be interested to know, Sir Gary, because we have not yet heard, how this will work now that the Scottish and Welsh Governments have both withheld consent for this legislation. We have the ability through the Sewel convention to say that this, as it stands, is not workable, practical, proportionate, and I could go on—

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Please don’t; I think the point is crystal clear. So much of this is caught up in legal language. You made it clear that there are some powers that would allow you easily to align yourself to retained EU law. This Bill does not limit the powers given to Scottish Ministers in the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021 to align with EU law in areas of devolved competence. Rather, the Bill will give Scottish Government Ministers further powers to more easily preserve or sunset retained EU law within a devolved competence. These new powers sit alongside those given to Scottish Government Ministers in the 2021 Act. I can fully understand that you have perhaps had some unsatisfactory conversations with Secretaries of State, or not had the assurances you are constantly seeking, but the reality is that you would have far more authority than you are alluding to with regards to control of legislation with this Bill. [Interruption.] Let’s move the conversation on, because we are very short of time. If we follow your argument, there is a concern that the Bill will cause greater divergence between retained EU law in England and Wales and retained EU law in Scotland. Is that conflict a concern for you?

Angus Robertson: With the greatest respect, the point about devolution is that we are able to do things differently in different parts of the United Kingdom. That is the point.

There are two significant problems that I really hope colleagues understand the scale of. We do not wish the proposal to go forward, yet if it does, we are a Government who already have a legislative programme which is going to come under massive pressure over the next years, depending on when the sunsetting arrangements are finalised for, and we are going to have to legislate through primary and secondary legislation to retain alignment with the European Union. That is the first point. I would hope there is an understanding of that.

The second point that I have tried to underline is the ability of UK Government Ministers to, in effect, override the concerns of the Scottish Government. That is much more than a democratic deficit; it is an undermining of the devolution settlement in its entirety. I am sure that some colleagues on the Committee will have looked closely at the workings of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the common frameworks. In effect, they mean that decisions made in the UK Parliament in relation to England are then applied throughout the UK regardless of the view taken by Parliaments in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. I hope colleagues understand the seriousness of the territory we are getting into.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I want to understand exactly which laws you think will be returned to Westminster. Instead of being broad, can you say exactly which laws you believe will be returned to Westminster? I can then try to respond to the points raised.

Angus Robertson: I am not talking about any laws returning to Westminster; I am talking about UK Government Ministers having the ability, in effect, to legislate in areas that are devolved. That is a totally different thing—

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Which particular area that is devolved will they be taking control of?

Angus Robertson: They can in any area they like—that is the problem. That is the concurrent nature of the powers for UK Ministers and devolved authorities. It is clear to be read: it is a power that can be used. I cannot foresee exactly which Minister would seek to use such a power or for what purpose, but they would have that power. That should surely be a concern for everybody. Is it not?

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon, Angus. To be clear, the Scottish Government have a fundamental objection in principle to the fact that this Bill, as past Acts of Parliament have, creates the possibility of a UK Government Minister ruling in devolved areas. That is your objection, yes?

Angus Robertson: Yes.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

That is very helpful. Thank you.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Clancy, we heard earlier that the EU legislates very differently from the UK, and that creates tensions between retained EU law and other domestic law. Is that a concern with regard to Scottish law?

Michael Clancy: In terms of the EU legislating differently from Scotland, it all depends on what was meant by that phrase, Minister. I am therefore kind of in the dark about what you are asking me to comment on. Certainly, the EU is a completely different legislative creature from legislatures within the UK. It operates in the field of supranational law, rather than national law, and has a different mechanism in the relationship between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council. Those are significant differences constitutionally from the way in which we operate, but I am not really sure what your fundamental objective is?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q You have actually answered the question, more than you think. Some people said that creation of retained EU law under the EU (Withdrawal) Act created a second statute book, but is legal certainty not improved by fully assimilating retained EU law into UK statute?

Michael Clancy: As you might have seen from our evidence, we took a lead from the comments made by Theresa May when she was Prime Minister about the creation of retained EU law as a route to certainty following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. Of course, it is always in the gift of Governments to change tack. To change to a different legislative structure, following the creation of retained EU law, is certainly possible, and the Bill seeks to do that, but I suppose the question is whether it is wise to do that in the time of the current economic crisis in which we are living.

Is it wise to do that with what could be described as a doctrinaire approach to time limits? The symbolic element of the later time by which changes can take place terminating 10 years after the referendum is all very well in terms of the political discourse, but will it be practicable to get to that point? Will there be adequate time for consultation with relevant individuals and businesses before that date arrives? Those are real issues embedded in the Bill.

There is then of course the issue that Mr Robertson and others talked about: the way in which all that interacts with the devolved Administrations and legislatures, and how they can deal with that approach to changing REUL. That is where one would want to criticise the Bill and ensure that we get it right if the changes are to proceed.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I am conscious of time, so I will be as quick as I can. I hope we get some quick answers. I have a question for you, Dr Gravey. A blog of 10 October that you co-authored on Brexit & Environment was brought to my attention. You noted:

“The UK government is in effect telling the devolved administrations to put on hold a lot of their priorities if they want to keep the status quo in any areas such as the environment where REUL plays a significant role.”

The compatibility and preservation powers in the Bill have been drafted as concurrent powers allowing either the devolved Administrations or UK Ministers to use them in devolved areas, or acting jointly. Those concurrent powers mean that devolved Administrations do not necessarily have to put on hold their priorities or allocate significant resources if they wish to maintain the status quo. Do you not agree?

Dr Gravey: Thank you so much, first of all for having read the blog—

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will never get those hours of my life back. That is fine. Please carry on.

Dr Gravey: Just the fact of the need to map all retained EU law in the devolved sphere is something that the devolved Administrations had not planned to do, and are being asked to do. Whether we can restate everything or not, there is one thing that as a Minister you might be able to help us with. Through transposition back in the ’90s or 2000s, a single SI might have been taken for the whole of the UK, even though it is an area of devolved competence. Can the different Administrations now each retain or amend that same SI differently? Can we have that kind of restatement of devolution powers?

There is a potential issue there. We are not sure what will happen when there was only one Brexit SI or one SI that was transposed back in the ’90s. For example, in some cases, transposition has been done by primary legislation in Scotland but secondary legislation in the rest of the UK.

We have all these things that have to be mapped. The mapping itself will take a lot of time, as we know from past SIs work. On the devolved Administration point, a lot of the worry is just going through and potentially making the case that at this point they need to have the right to retain something, although it is perhaps revoked in England. The impression that I have from my engagement with the Administrations is that there are some concerns there. If the UK Government are willing to say, “Don’t worry, even if it is the same SI, you can retain it while we revoke it”, that will reassure the devolved Administrations a lot.

Michael Clancy: May I say that I do not think that concurrent and joint are the same thing? We talk about powers granted to devolved Administrations being conferred concurrently and jointly. Concurrently means that they are used either by a UK Minister or by a devolved Administration independently of each another in devolved areas, whereas jointly means that a UK Minister and a devolved Administration are acting together. It is useful to get that kind of distinction on the record.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you, that is very helpful.

Charles Whitmore: While we are on the concurrency of the powers, I think this is a significant concern. It is a constitutional anomaly within our legislation that the UK Government can use concurrent powers in the Bill to legislate in areas of devolved competence without any form of seeking consent from relevant devolved Ministers. It is egregiously out of keeping not only with the Sewel convention, which is already under significant strain but with other EU withdrawal-related pieces of legislation.

Sections 6(7), (8), (9) and section 10(9) of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 require the UK Government to seek the consent of devolved authorities before making regulations and to publish a statement as to—if this is the case—why they are going ahead with that, despite potential devolved refusal. We have mechanisms in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act itself, and an intergovernmental agreement alongside, which provide a consent mechanism so that there is a recognition that this is a jointly shared space. It is quite odd that there is no consent mechanism of that nature in this Bill.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Third sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage
Tuesday 22nd November 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 22 November 2022 - (22 Nov 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I think the hon. Lady is trying to restore the calm that she referred to in her speech. I am sure that she has done so.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait The Minister for Industry and Investment Security (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I hope that, over the next few—or many—days, proceedings will be conducted as calmly as possible. To start on a friendly note, I wish the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston a happy birthday—the big five-0. Now he will not talk to me any more.

I reject amendments 26 and 28, which would change the sunset date from 2023, as well as the date to which the sunset may be extended under the extension power. I am grateful that, although amendment 26 is not appropriate for the Bill, some hon. Members who spoke in support of it at least acknowledged that a sunset will be a valuable tool in dealing with retained EU law. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, for whom I always have a huge amount of time, say that he will oppose every step of the Bill. Fundamentally, he is just opposing Brexit, and we really cannot rehash the same conversation over and over. The hon. Member for Walthamstow referred to Brexit as a process. This is part of the process, so we need to crack on. We need a sunset date, otherwise it will be 20-on-the-never-never.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, and I think a lot of Opposition Members, have some sympathy for the Minister in having to defend the indefensible—a piece of legacy legislation. Has she seen the report in the Financial Times this morning? Her boss is apparently briefing that the sunset clause is inappropriate for next December. His aides are saying:

“Grant thinks things should be done at a more sane pace”,

reflecting all the evidence that we have received. When will she put us out of our misery and acknowledge that the December 2023 sunset date is madness?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If I have to respond to every item in a newspaper, regardless of where it comes from, we will be here much longer than we are already committed to be. If the hon. Member gives me a few moments, I will explain why the sunset date matters. As he says, many people are concerned about the timelines in the Bill, but I assure the Committee that there is definitely not a cliff edge. I want to respond to allegations of a bureaucratic burden—although that would assume that we would never have any change. This process is not simple, but we are not in government to do simple things; that is the honest truth.

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister says that work is taking place in every Department. The Government clearly have a lot concerning them at the moment and many priorities. What assessment has been made of the amount of civil service time that will be involved? We have seen many estimates of hundreds of civil servants having to be devoted solely to this work, so I assume that the Government have done an evaluation of the impact. Can the Minister share that with us?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Every time the Government put forward a piece of legislation, Government resources are focused on that piece of legislation to ensure that it is delivered. We have a Brexit Opportunities Unit in place as well. The assumption that resources are not moved around to get a piece of legislation through is slightly absurd. We understand that it is a piece of work that needs to be done, that it is a process and we have a deadline, but the work will be done.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the hon. Member gives me a moment to expand a little more I can explain; I will then take interventions from the birthday boy. Officials have catalogued retained EU law across Government, which has been collated, as part of the cross-varietal substance review of retained EU law, into the dashboard that was published on 22 June. Crucially, powers in the Bill have been drafted to ensure that the current date is workable. The preservation power enables UK Ministers and devolved authorities to keep specific pieces of legislation that would otherwise be subject to sunset where the legislation meets a desired policy effect, without having fully to restate or otherwise amend the legislation.

The power to revoke or replace the compatibility power and the power to restate assimilated law will be available until 23 June 2026, while the power to update will be a continuous power. These powers have the ability to amend assimilated law once the sunset date has passed and retained EU law is no longer a legal category; that means that Departments can preserve their retained EU law so that it becomes assimilated law after the sunset date, and amend it further beyond that date if required. In addition, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be working closely with other Government Departments, as well as devolved Governments, to ensure that appropriate actions are taken before the sunset date. Finally, the extension mechanism in clause 2 ensures that, should more time be required fully to review the changes needed to retained EU law, the sunset can be extended for specific provisions or descriptions of retained EU law until 23 June 2026.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has tried heroically but unsuccessfully, I am afraid, to argue that this arbitrary deadline will not place enormous strain on a civil service that is already under enormous strain. Can she look at it from the opposite direction? Can she explain why it would be bad to set an absolute deadline of 2026? If Departments and Ministers are able to sort things out by the end of 2023, they can do so in a safe environment where they are not under pressure to get it done quickly, with the possible consequence that it would then be done wrong.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I simply do not recognise that the added burden means that the programme of work cannot be deliverable. I mentioned the fact that we have an ability to provide an extension, depending on what that piece of legislation is. What we do not want to do is undermine focus on delivering the bulk of the work by the sunset date that is in place at the moment.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s references to my special day, which will now be recorded forever more. She mentioned the Brexit opportunities team. Who is the Minister responsible for that team?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Brexit opportunities team sits in BEIS and it works across Whitehall. This programme of work is being delivered with the team and across all Whitehall Departments as well; the focus of the work that is taking place is across Whitehall. Any anxiety that people are not working closely or collectively is for the birds. The fact that we have a deadline means that it focused everyone’s mind and attention.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a very important piece of work, as the Minister has outlined. There must be a Minister who is responsible for it. Who is that? Who can we ask and speak to about this issue, because this is clearly a matter of important scrutiny?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure exactly what the hon. Member wants to speak about with regard to the Bill. I am here to perform my role and deliver this piece of legislation. We have a Secretary of State and we know that the Prime Minister is delivering on this piece of legislation as well. I am not sure what further contact the hon. Member needs.

Alongside amendment 26, amendment 28 would have very little impact, as clause 2 would still specify that 2026 was the maximum date that an extension could be set for. If we combined these amendments with amendment 29 or amendment 32, which we will debate later, that would result in the extension mechanism being able to extend specific provisions or descriptions of retained EU law beyond 31 December 2026. The extension power’s very nature is to mitigate any risks posed by the current sunset date. I recognise that, without an extension, there is a risk that Departments would not have sufficient time to perform the legislative and administrative procedures required for retained EU legislation in certain complex areas.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If we cannot play a game of “Guess Who?” as to who will then be responsible for the implementation of this legislation if it is passed, let me ask this. The Minister wrote to us to say that the Government were still scoping out which laws would be covered by it, so how can she be confident that everything is in place to cover the full gamut of what would be covered by this legislation if she cannot at this point tell us how many laws will be covered? It is a reasonable question to ask, is it not? How much work is there to be done? If the Minister cannot tell us now or at least confirm how many laws are covered, it is not unreasonable to worry that equally she cannot confirm that the Government have put in place the people and the processes to do it all within a year.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The dashboard is there to identify the pieces of legislation that need to be uncovered, but of course we will constantly look, constantly dig and constantly ask Departments to see what else is in place. I do not think it is unreasonable to ask Departments to explore what pieces of legislation are in place, which ones are valid, which ones have already come to the end of their lifespan and what more we need to do. I think it is really healthy to ask Departments, to ask across Whitehall, what further work needs to be done. That work will then continue, and on the anxiety over the sunset clause, we have the extension in place as well.

Combined, the amendments would thwart the Bill and retain REUL as a distinct category of law on the UK statute book. I therefore ask that the amendments be withdrawn or not pressed.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Walthamstow and the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston—and happy birthday! I am sure that he dreamed of spending his big day with us. Both Opposition colleagues made extremely convincing arguments that this work simply cannot be done in the timescale that has been laid out in the Bill. I think that nobody believes that it can be done in the timescale, because basic logic tells us that it cannot. Like the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, I have enormous sympathy for the Minister, who I think has been sent in, as he said, to defend the indefensible. I suspect that eventually, when the harsh reality dawns over Downing Street, which it appears to be doing, this will change, and I hope that it will change sooner rather than later. On that basis, I will not push our amendments to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

--- Later in debate ---
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a good example of the challenge we faced yesterday in the Delegated Legislation Committee on persistent organic pollutants, where it was not clear what legislation was covered by this Bill and what would be deleted and, therefore, whether it was worth rewriting any legislation. The Minister got into a tangle. We would be talking about such a tangle on a more widespread scale across our devolved Administrations.

I echo the point made about my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, about the importance of recognising our colleagues in the Senedd as well. That is the challenge with this legislation. Because we do not know the full extent of what it will do, we do not know how it will affect devolution. We do not know where the lines between devolved powers and powers held at Westminster will be drawn and what will be retained. These amendments reflect that. It is not unreasonable to ask Government Ministers to clarify how they see this all working.

One of the concerns over the last couple of years has been the fractures in devolution and the pressure we have put on our devolved Administrations in making the decision to leave the European Union. I would ask the Minister to set out not just why she thinks Westminster should supersede any of the devolved Administrations, but also what her plans would be, should in that subsequent, updated, rolling list of laws a piece of retained law come up that had perhaps not been previously identified but that is quite clearly about devolved powers. How would she look to manage that?

The Minister’s colleagues yesterday were rather intemperate, shall we say, when it was pointed out that they were passing a statutory instrument that rested on legislation that would no longer exist at the end of the next year, 50% of which had not yet been identified as being on the dashboard but was clearly part of the regulations the Government had put forward. How does the Minister feel that will affect our relationships across the United Kingdom and our ability to speak up for the Union if the Westminster Government puts Government Ministers across the devolved Assemblies and the Scottish Parliament in the same position for 4,000 pieces of legislation?

I hope the Minister will recognise that these amendments and concerns about devolution come, yet again, not from a desire to stop Brexit, because Brexit has happened, but from a desire to protect the Union and ensure that people in any part of the United Kingdom have confidence that Government Ministers know exactly what they are doing.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Committee should reject the amendments, which would exempt devolved legislation within Scotland’s legislative competence from the sunset, and amend the territorial extent of the Bill so that it does not extend to Scotland. A sunset is the quickest and most effective way to accelerate the review of the majority of rules on the UK statute book by a specific date in the near future. That will incentivise genuine rule reform in a way that will work best for all parts of the UK.

The territorial scope of the Bill is UK-wide. It is therefore constitutionally appropriate that the sunset applies across all four sovereign nations in the UK. That approach is consistent with other EU exit legislation, and will enable the devolved Governments to make provisions for addressing retained EU law in areas of devolved competence. Every nation of the UK should have the opportunity to review the retained EU law and have the powers to reform the legislation in a way that is appropriate and best suited to its citizens and businesses. Nothing in the sunset provision affects the devolution settlement. It is not intended to restrict the competence of either the devolved legislatures or the devolved Governments.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I put it to the Minister that rejecting the amendment very much affects the devolution settlement. It means that the priorities on which the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland civil service work will no longer be those set by their democratically elected Parliaments and Governments, but the policies set by the UK Government. Angus Robertson made it clear that the Scottish Government believe that there will be a substantial burden of administration on the Scottish civil service. What gives Ministers in this Parliament the right to tell the Scottish civil service to do what they tell them to, not their elected Ministers?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are delivering. A crucial part of Brexit was ensuring that our law is the most sovereign law in the land. That is what we are delivering. It is not a diversion from any other policy.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will continue.

A question was raised earlier, as the hon. Member raised just now, about a power grab. When using the powers under the Bill, the Government will use the appropriate mechanisms, such as the common frameworks, to engage with the devolved Governments. That will ensure that we are able to take account of the wider context and allow for joined-up decision making across the UK. If any disputes arise, we are committed to using the appropriate processes set out in the review of intergovernmental relations.

Nothing in the sunset provision affects the devolution settlement. It is not intended to restrict the competence of either the devolved legislatures or the devolved Governments; rather, it will enable the Scottish Government to make active decisions about the retained EU law within their devolved competence for the benefit of citizens and businesses throughout Scotland. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute to withdraw the amendment.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I will not withdraw the amendment. I repeat that Scotland is having this done to us by a Government that we did not elect, pursuing a policy that we overwhelmingly rejected. My hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes is right that the priorities of the Scottish Government will be dictated by the Government in Westminster. That flies in the face of the devolution settlement. I agree with the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston that, if a matter is within the devolved competence, it should be for the devolved Parliaments to decide whether they retain EU law and whether they sunset it. On that basis, I will press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 1

Ayes: 7

Noes: 9

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 90, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(1A) Schedule [the Definitive List] sets out a complete list of instruments to be revoked by subsection (1) (referred to as the ‘Definitive List’).

(1B) The Secretary of State must by regulation add all relevant instruments referred to in subsection (1), so far as they are known to the Secretary of State at that date, to the Definitive List within 14 days of the date of Royal Assent to this Act.”

--- Later in debate ---
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Government Members may find this incomprehensible, but at some point it is not inconceivable that they may be in opposition. When they are, and they are presented with a Government Bill and literally nobody knows the full extent of what it does, that will seem similarly incomprehensible. I know that many Government Members have never contemplated the wilderness of opposition. For other Members, such as myself, it is all that we have ever known—but we have never known a situation where to ask Ministers to set out what a piece of legislation covers is considered an inconvenience at best or offensive at worst. The amendment is about rectifying that—not to put Ministers on the spot, but because it is completely reasonable and rational in a democracy to expect to know what Parliament is being asked to do.

The fact that we have to state that—my colleague on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, gave an admirably gentle and mild version of what I am about to say—is a reflection of the difficulties of a Government who are struggling on after 12 years and cannot explain themselves. Our constituents could look at the consequences of not knowing what the legislation does as either—in what I believe is the common parlance—cock-up or conspiracy. That is precisely what will happen if we do not know what laws will be covered. Yet the Minister has admitted that she does not know. She wants to tell us some time next year, after the legislation will apparently have passed through Parliament.

I do not know about you, Sir George, but I am pretty sure that the Netflix special is already being written, because there must be some conspiracy behind this. Why do the Government not want to tell us what laws they want to get rid of? After all, we have just been told that actually the Bill is all about Brexit. Those of us who think that this is a bad process and that Brexit could be done in 101 other ways are clearly mistaken. There must be a conspiracy at stake here. The true width of what is happening must be something that could rival “Designated Survivor”. The alternative—that the Government have put forward a Bill with a timetable and pace that mean they literally do not know what will happen next—is frankly disrespectful to our constituents. This amendment is about the confidence that the Government have in their own work. I turn again to the wondrous words of Warren G, when he said about being a regulator,

“you can’t be any geek off the street”.

Surely there must be some competency involved in this role. That competency is knowing what the legislation does. That is why with every other piece of legislation we have an impact assessment. It is not unreasonable for us as parliamentarians to ask for that. After all, we will have to justify it to our constituents—well, we Opposition Members will not, but those currently sitting in the glorious offices of Government will. They will have to explain to their constituents why they passed a piece of legislation while not realising what it would do. At this point in time, nobody in this House can explain what it will do. Nobody, as the Minister yesterday discovered, could explain what would replace it. Nobody in this room can tell us exactly what is on that list. It is indescribable.

I do not think that in 12 years—that makes me a grandee in Labour terms at this rate—I have ever seen a piece of legislation where we as the Opposition have to ask for the extent of its impact. I want to warn Government Members: some day this may well happen to them. I know that must seem a gross insult, but they too will want Governments who are able to explain what they are intending to do, even if they do not agree with it, because they would then be able to go and tell their constituents why they do not agree with it. It is a reasonable proposition.

Amendment 90 asks the Government to set out a comprehensive list of retained EU law. After all, it is on the face of the Bill that that is what this legislation does. I apologise, Sir George, because I am now laughing. I am laughing at the absurdity of our being at a point where we have to ask the Government to set out what they are going to do. There is the concept of an “authoritative but not comprehensive” list—those words are worthy not just of “Yes Minister” but of “Blackadder” in their pomposity and stupidity. It is stupidity because it is incredibly dangerous to give the Government powers that they do not know what they are going to do with. Let me be clear that I am talking about the stupidity of the legislation, not the people.

I am talking about stupidity in terms of accidental intent—the cock-up element of this, rather than conspiracy. That is what I fear most of all. A conspiracy means somebody at least has a plan. As I am sure we will come on to later, the conspiracy is that the Government intend to rip up thousands of rights that people have relied on, such as by ending people’s right to bank holidays, leaving them as an option, and ripping up maternity rights. After all, some of us in the House remember the Beecroft report well, so we know this is something Government have talked about before. That would be the conspiracy.

The cock-up is in creating a piece of legislation that deletes things and the Government then not realising they have deleted them until somebody comes forward to point it out. The statutory instrument I spoke to yesterday, which I really hope Ministers go and look at, was also about correcting deficiencies in how legislation was written. That is to say, things had been missed off. It happens, but asking the Government to set out clearly what legislation the Bill will amend—whether that be deleting, replacing or amending it—is not an unreasonable request. Our constituents should expect us to know what it is we are going to be legislating on.

On Second Reading, the previous Minister—not the Minister in front of us, to be clear—tried to claim that I should not be worried that this legislation would have an impact on airline safety, as that was a matter contained in primary legislation, so not subject to the sunset. In reality, we have now replaced that provision of civil aviation legislation with a range of secondary legislation, meaning precisely that airline safety is up for grabs and we will need to find time to rewrite that legislation.

If the Ministers responsible for this legislation do not themselves know its extent, how can we expect all those civil servants—who the Minister cannot clarify are working on this legislation—to know the full extent, let alone the colleagues she cannot name who are working on it? What will happen when a Minister is suddenly presented with a piece of legislation that has been abolished, which was not on the dashboard, not identified and not set out in the legislation? A Minister presented with that scenario will have no recourse—it will have happened, unless we pass amendments that give everybody clarity and confidence. It is not unreasonable to want to set out a workload for Government so that they know what they are doing.

Amendment 91 allows us to work out how the amendments happen. Again, I am laughing at the absurdity of our being in a position where we have to set out an understanding of how things might be changed and who we might want to talk to—perhaps industry experts. I am sure Government Members who stood on platforms where they supported things such as Beecroft have no problem with watering down the working time directive. I am sure they will tell us later when we come to debate that.

What about standards regulations—those incredibly technical but incredibly dull pieces of legislation that, if we are all honest, we have not spent a lot of time looking at, but we look to industry experts to be able to tell us about? How is it unreasonable to set out a process by which those people will be consulted? What have we got against experts in this country? Frankly, at this point in time, some expertise on legislation, given that the Government have to admit they do not know the full extent of the Bill, would be welcome.

In my 12 years as an MP, we have always expected to have impact assessments and to know roughly what is in scope in legislation. Clerks cannot tell us that because Clerks do not know the full extent of the legislation, because we do not have a full list. We keep coming back to the themes of the amendment, but we also have to recognise that removing the entire body of EU-based legislation at a stroke, without clarity about what replaces it, will also have a wider impact. It could impact on the TCA itself, because it could be considered to breach regulations that we put into the TCA to show that we were not going to reduce or water down rights in order to make sure we did not start a trade war. Again, setting out what laws are up for grabs would help mitigate that impact.

Government Members can be as blind as they like or as deaf to the idea that there could be any problem with passing a piece of legislation where we literally have no idea of what it covers. But mark my words, Sir George: if and when they find themselves in opposition, they will rue the day they set the precedent that it is possible for Government Ministers not only to have such sweeping powers, but not to be told what it is they can use those powers for.

The amendments are not unreasonable; I will wager that when the Bill comes to the House of Lords, if the Ministers today are adamant about turning down the amendments, we might see something similar. I hope that Members across the House will support them if only for the sanity of being able to remove the idea that there is some sort of conspiracy, and we can go back to expecting a common or garden cock-up in how legislation in this place is written.

In the meantime, I urge Government Members to support the amendments. If they cannot explain to their constituents what they are doing in Committee today, they certainly would not be able to explain it when we come to the election to decide which side of the House any of us sits on, and that will be a very testing moment indeed.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I ask hon. Members to reject amendments 90 and 91 as well as the introduction of new schedule 1. The amendments undermine the central sunset policy of clause 1 and the Bill as a whole. The sunset provision was drafted to incentivise Departments to review their retained EU legislation and actively make a decision on whether to preserve something. Amendment 90 creates the preservation of a default position and therefore removes the key impetus for reform. Allowing outdated retained EU laws to languish on our statute book where they do not work in the best interests of the UK is irresponsible.

The sunset is the backbone of the Bill as it accelerates reform and planning for future regulatory changes. Without it, the benefits and the potential to bolster economic growth might not be realised at all, as sunset ensures that a single cohesive domestic statute book will exist following the sunset deadline. We have already committed to abolishing retained EU laws that stifle growth and are not in the best interests of UK businesses and consumers. The sunset is our fulfilment of that commitment.

I want to quickly respond to some of the questions raised. I do not have a list of TV or Netflix programmes or movies to contrast my responses. To crush the conspiracy about the laws that have been recognised, I refer hon. Members to the dashboard, which has the retained EU laws available, collected as part of a cross-Government collaborative exercise. The process was led by the Brexit Opportunities Unit, and it is where retained EU law sits across over 300 policy areas and 21 sectors of the economy. Hopefully, that conspiracy theory can die very quickly.

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If I make progress, maybe I will answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions.

A question was raised about whether this was the only account of retained EU law. Throughout the process of the retained EU law review, we have been working closely with the National Archives. There was a figure in the Financial Times, but we have yet to verify all those items. The number covers all existing legislation, but some of it may have already outdated itself as legislation has been updated.

On the question about management and cost, the retained EU law dashboard was built by officials from the Brexit Opportunities Unit and the Cabinet Office using the software Tableau. It was created with no additional cost to the Government. Hopefully, that covers some of the conspiracy theory about where the information is kept.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If I can continue, I will hopefully finish on some of the questions that were raised, such as the one about working with Parliament. We are committed to working collaboratively with Parliament to deliver the programme, as we did with our programme of statutory instruments for EU exit. I do not see why we cannot build on that approach as well.

The question was raised about international obligations. The UK Government are committed to ensuring that the necessary legislation is in place to uphold the UK’s international obligations, including the withdrawal agreement, the Northern Ireland protocol and the trade and co-operation agreement after the sunset date. The UK Government will make sure that the necessary legislation is in place to ensure the terms of the withdrawal agreement are upheld after the sunset date, including regarding citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland protocol. The aim of the Bill is not to alter the rights of EU nationals, which are protected or eligible to be protected by the relevant citizens’ rights provisions contained within the withdrawal agreement.

I do not buy the Opposition argument that somehow we will take decisions that mean we have a different set of values to Brussels—lower standards, making our constituents less safe and taking away their rights. That is not who we are as elected officials. We are all working together in the same room and many Opposition Members know that we share the same values as they do. Scaring people that we are going to do something that takes away those rights is slightly absurd.

Clause 2 also allows for extensions to the sunset date for specified instruments or a specified description of retained EU legislation where we have plans to amend and reform but need slightly longer to do so. Everybody will recognise and welcome that. Introducing a schedule that requires a listing of all retained EU law to be revoked is unnecessarily burdensome and not a good use of civil service and parliamentary time when preservation would still be necessary.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Overall, the amendments change the very principle that the Bill is trying to introduce: fundamentally delivering Brexit. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston to withdraw his amendment.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call Justin Madders.

--- Later in debate ---

Division 2

Ayes: 7

Noes: 9

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 22, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply unless a motion approving the revocation of any piece of legislation to be revoked has been passed by the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

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Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The amendments acknowledge that it should not be Ministers who get to decide which laws to keep and which to chop. The Bill gives the Government widespread executive powers to rewrite affected laws through statutory instruments that require little parliamentary scrutiny, and with no mandate from the voters. There has been no guidance on, or indication of, which laws Ministers consider to be outdated, and what improvements are intended to make them

“better suited to the UK.”

Any replacement for these rights would require little parliamentary scrutiny. Core workers’ rights, key environmental protections and important consumer rights are left in the gift of Ministers. I think we have made it clear that we do not think that is acceptable.

The refrain of those who advocated for Brexit was that we should take back control—“we” meaning the people we represent, not Ministers sitting in rooms on their own, answerable to nobody, and under no requirement to explain their actions or inaction. That is not the way to go. The Government cannot argue that the Bill brings sovereignty and democratic control back to the legislative process when it demolishes the role normally undertaken by Parliament.

Any meaningful attempt to increase democratic oversight would seek to address those fundamental flaws. Parliamentary safeguards exist precisely because Ministers might always be tempted to resist scrutiny from Parliament. Those safeguards are important, if only because scrutiny and debate prevent errors, omissions—we certainly feel that there may well be omissions—and mistakes. These are important matters that will impact our constituents’ lives, and the prosperity or otherwise of the nation for years to come. Should not any Government have the courage of their convictions and open up their decisions for parliamentary approval? Should not we have a say on whatever Government decide that they are letting themselves and their citizens in for?

The Civil Society Alliance has said that this Bill will further destabilise devolution arrangements at a time when tensions between devolved and central authorities are more challenging than ever, and that will undermine the UK’s democracy and constitution, as well as the role of devolved and central Parliaments. The alliance says that the Bill gives staggeringly broad delegated powers to repeal and replace parliamentary laws with policy that is subject to little or no democratic scrutiny and is introduced at an alarming pace. We have already made clear our position: we do not agree with this. No one, whether they voted remain or leave, would want that. For that reason, we think that the amendments have some merit.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I ask hon. Members to reject amendments 22 to 24. Amendment 22 would fundamentally undermine the principles of the Bill by requiring individual pieces of retained EU law to be approved by a motion in the House of Commons and all the devolved legislatures before the sunset could revoke them. Notwithstanding the issue with parliamentary time, this amendment would require the UK Government to seek consent from all the devolved legislatures before revoking any secondary retained EU law, irrespective of its devolution status or territorial extent. It seems that it would in effect give the devolved legislatures a veto over retained EU law in other parts of the UK, and is therefore highly inappropriate.

Amendments 23 and 24 would hinder the efficient removal of regulations that have been identified as beign outdated, unduly burdensome and not suitable for UK citizens and businesses. The intention in this Bill is not for the Government to take on the function of the devolved authorities; nor is the Bill a power grab. I therefore ask that the amendments be withdrawn or not pressed.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not remotely surprised by the Minister’s reply, but I gently ask her: who knows better than the parliamentarians representing people across these islands in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast about what is best for them and the people who elected them? They can also provide expertise on the damage that unintended consequences can cause. How often in this Parliament have we made the case that on occasion—or often—the views of other parts of the United Kingdom have been overlooked or ignored by the Government, and that Government officials have been unaware of them?

This is about democracy. This is about giving the other Parliaments the right to say, “No, this will not work, and these are the reasons why.” Very recent history tells us that had we adopted such an approach only six or seven years ago, we would not be in the mess we are in. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Fourth sitting)

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage
Tuesday 22nd November 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 22 November 2022 - (22 Nov 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will speak to amendments 60, 67 and new clause 4, tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes. The amendments would oblige the Secretary of State to publish a full list of workers’ rights that could be put at risk under this legislation by 1 January 2023. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and for Walthamstow. I fully agree with everything they said. If they press their amendment to a Division, our support is guaranteed.

We have heard several times today that the Bill gives UK Government Ministers unprecedented powers to rewrite and replace huge swathes of domestic law, covering matters such as environmental protection, consumer rights, and of course those long-established, hard-won workers’ rights. The right hon. Member for Clwyd West, and indeed the Government generally, have been at pains throughout the passage of the Bill to say that there will be no diminution of workers’ rights, but given that they have failed to produce an accessible list of exactly what will stay and what will go as a result of the Bill, coupled with the fact that so many stakeholders see the Bill as the starter pistol for a deregulatory race to the bottom, they will fully understand the scepticism that exists not just here, but outside this place, over any promise that workers’ rights will be protected.

Although we have heard the Government’s vague promises that everything will be okay, and the reassuring words, “Trust us, we’ll see you okay”, that is not good enough. Workers across the country will fear that the Government are going down a one-way road towards deregulation that will certainly not benefit workers or protect their rights.

We heard in the oral evidence session that the trade unions are particularly sceptical about what the Government have planned for workers’ rights. They have serious concerns that, among those 3,800—so far—discovered pieces of legislation that are due to be sunsetted in 13 months’ time, there could be legislation covering annual leave entitlement, women returning to the workplace, the treatment of part-time workers, protection from dismissal, holiday pay, legislation on working hours, and rights to parental leave. As the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said earlier, the fact that this legislation was the brainchild of, and initially piloted by, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) sets alarm bells ringing—with some justification, given that back in 2013 he was quoted as saying,

“It is hard to believe that the right to paid holiday is an absolute moral right; it is something that comes about because of political pressure at the time”—[Official Report, 1 March 2013; Vol. 559, c. 605.]

If that is not evidence enough of the direction of travel—or, at least, the suggested direction of travel—in which this Government are heading, I do not know what is. The Government have to accept that they have a long way to go in addressing the concerns of the trade unions, who explained much of their fear was based on being unable to find out exactly which pieces of legislation will stay and which will go. Shantha David of Unison said that the dashboard is

“the most incomprehensible piece of equipment. You have to put in random words to try and identify whether certain pieces of legislation will remain or go.”––[Official Report, Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Public Bill Committee, 8 November 2022; c. 58, Q91.]

It is a completely unsatisfactory position. All that new clause 4 would do is oblige the Government to provide trade unions, individuals and other organisations with a comprehensive list of every piece of employment legislation that could be impacted by the Bill. I do not think for a minute that that is too much to ask, or indeed too much to expect, the Government to provide. If the Government are serious and they want us to believe that the Bill will not put workers’ rights under threat, that is a very small and simple step to at least signal they are moving in the right direction.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait The Minister for Industry and Investment Security (Ms Nusrat Ghani)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

You will not be surprised to hear, Sir George, that I wish to reject amendments 73, 76, 67 and 60, and new clause 4. While the speeches were taking place, I was reflecting on the level of scrutiny we had when we were governed and subjugated by rules coming out of Europe. I do not recall transcripts from those meetings, or opportunities for Members elected to represent constituents and their businesses to get involved and offer up what they thought was needed for those businesses domestically. However, here we have an opportunity to assimilate, review and potentially improve rules and regulations, and to ensure that we are governed by rules that we enact here in the United Kingdom.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I may be mistaken, but I distinctly remember being a member of the European Scrutiny Committee in this place for several years. The explicit job of that Committee was to scrutinise proposed EU legislation and to express whether it, on behalf of Parliament, was content for Ministers to either support that legislation or oppose it. It was not the fault of the European Union that very often that Committee had no teeth. It was certainly not the fault of the European Union that as often as not, Ministers ignored the views of that Committee. Is it not the case that the difficulties with parliamentary oversight of European legislation for the 40 years that we were in the EU were nothing to do with the failings of the European Union, and everything to do with the failings of scrutiny in this place?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is honest about his position when he says that there was no problem with the European Union; that is the core of many of the arguments put forward by Opposition Members.

Saqib Bhatti Portrait Saqib Bhatti (Meriden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Opposition Members keep telling us that they accept the result of the referendum and this is not about Brexit. Is it not the case that through this legislation we are taking back control and allowing Parliament to be the body that has the scrutiny mechanisms? Does the Minister have more faith in Parliament than Opposition Members do?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend hits the nails on the head. I have far more faith and confidence in the UK Parliament, and in the Members elected to represent the United Kingdom and its constituencies.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way, but then I must carry on.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way. On her point on the absence of scrutiny, did she not read the written evidence submitted by the Bar Council? In paragraph 12, it said:

“We also point to the very valuable work over the years of the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Select Committee and other Select Committees...UK ministers, politicians and officials, stakeholders and policy makers had ample opportunity to, and did, exert influence on the development of EU policy and secondary legislation...Indeed, in most cases, the EU legislation was supported, and even promoted, by the UK Government of the day.”

The idea that there was no scrutiny is nonsense, is it not?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What is nonsense is the fact that the European Scrutiny Committee was unable to reject any legislation.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What I will make some progress now.

The Bill is enabling legislation. The measures in it, including the sunset, will allow UK Ministers, including those in the devolved Governments, to make decisions to review, amend or repeal retained EU law as they see fit. We have heard considerable contributions about which laws have moved down into UK law from the EU, making the assumption that we were never able to lay down rules and laws for our people in the UK, and that somehow we would get rid of all the high standards we have.

Let me point out some of the things that we have done, to let everyone know that we have pretty high standards when we are passing legislation. We have the highest minimum wage in Europe, which increased again on 1 April. UK workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of annual leave, compared with the EU requirement of just four weeks. We provide a year of maternity leave, with the option to convert to shared parental leave to enable parents to share care, while the EU minimum maternity leave is just 14 weeks. The right to request flexible working for all employees was introduced to the UK in the early 2000s, while the EU agreed rules only recently and will offer the right to parents and carers only. The UK introduced two weeks’ paid paternity leave in 2003, while the EU has only recently legislated for that. Those facts show that we are very capable of ensuring good standards here in the UK.

Paul Blomfield Portrait Paul Blomfield
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way while she is pausing?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am moving forward. I will give way shortly.

The sunset is not intended to restrict decision making; rather, it will accelerate the review of REUL. The Bill will allow UK Ministers, including those in devolved Administrations, additional flexibility and discretion to make decisions in the best interests of their citizens. It is up to Departments and devolved Administrations what they will do on specific pieces of policy. The Bill creates the tools for Departments. Plans will be approved by a Minister of the Crown or the devolved authority where appropriate, and will be shared when ready, given that this is an iterative process that is still ongoing.

On the specifics policies listed in the amendment, the Government do not intend to remove any necessary equality law rights and protections. With the introduction of the Bill, the Health and Safety Executive is reviewing its retained EU law to consider how best to ensure that our regulatory frameworks continue to operate effectively, and to seek opportunities to modernise its regulations without reducing health and safety rights. The Government have no intention of abandoning our strong record on workers’ rights, having raised domestic standards over recent years to make them some of the highest in the world. Our high standards were never dependent on our membership of the EU. Indeed, the UK provides stronger protections for workers than required by EU law. I listed a few a moment ago.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On new clause 4, it is right that the public should know how much legislation is derived from the EU and the progress that the Government are making to reform it. This is why on 22 June 2022 we published an authoritative public record of where REUL sits on the UK statute book in the form of the REUL dashboard on gov.uk, which catalogues more than 2,400 pieces of legislation derived from the EU. The information is there; asking that we cut and paste it somewhere else is slightly ridiculous and over-bureaucratic.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government have no intention of abandoning our strong record on workers’ rights, having raised domestic standards over recent years to make them some of the highest in the world.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow raised the issue of maternity rights. She has done a huge amount of work for women’s rights, as have I. I just find it incredibly unfortunate that both she and I have been defending and promoting women’s rights but that we might create an anxiety based on fiction and not on fact. The repeal of maternity rights is not and has never been Government policy. The high standards of maternity rights that I mentioned earlier have never been dependent on, or even mirrored, those of the EU; we have always gone a lot further.

Taking all that into account, I ask the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston to withdraw his amendment.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have quite a few things to say. First, the rehashing of the old arguments about a lack of scrutiny when the laws covered by the amendment were introduced is, as I said at length this morning, not correct. Even if people think that, the answer is certainly not to make it harder to scrutinise laws now.

--- Later in debate ---

Division 3

Ayes: 7

Noes: 9

--- Later in debate ---
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pay testament to my hon. Friend for working through that list, and for introducing us all to the concept of killer shrimp. I am sure that we will have nightmares about them, as we might about the legislation and the Committee sittings.

I hope that we can find common ground in Committee, because many of us have had to deal with the consequences of animal welfare legislation in our constituencies, particularly in relation to avian flu. As a local MP, I never thought that I would say regularly, “Don’t touch the ducks!” but that has become a refrain in my community because of problems we have had with avian botulism and avian flu. That is why I am convinced that it is important we parliamentarians should understand legislation—just as we should the Schleswig-Holstein question—and the intricacies and details of the negotiations behind the laws that protect us.

I see that Regulation (EU) No 139/2013, which lays down the animal health conditions governing the importation of birds and their quarantine conditions, is up for deletion under the Bill. I know, however, that in Bosworth last year, Wealden earlier this year, and recently in Clwyd West, members of the Committee had the same experience and I have of bird flu in their constituency. They know about the importance of the regulation. We recognise the concern that if that regulation is simply torn up and no commitment is made to it, the means of addressing that very live issue in our communities is at stake. Consider the work that is done to protect our bird life, our wildfowl and other wildlife. In particular, consider the avian influenza prevention zones, which have had an impact in many constituencies across the House. All that work is underpinned by that EU regulation, so the idea of deleting it when we have such a live issue with bird flu in the UK causes concern.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West referred to the National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2018. Many of us will have seen the horrific case this week of the child who died in a damp property, but we also remember Ella Kissi-Debrah’s death in February 2013, which was found to be caused by acute respiratory failure and severe asthma. As MPs we deal with such issues—damp, mould, air quality—and complaints about them daily. The retained European law has underpinned the regulations and standards to which we have held our local authorities and, indeed, our national Government. Nobody is saying that that is why we should not have left the EU—that has happened. We are simply saying that deleting laws on such live issues without making a commitment to replace them creates uncertainty at a time when our constituents are asking for action on air quality and avian flu.

Anyone who has been an MP for any length of time also knows that when animal welfare issues come up in the House, our inboxes explode. It is an old chestnut. The Bill deletes all the protections offered on animal welfare, and brings back something that I have not seen since I was a teenager—not terrible ’90s fringes or blue lipstick, but live animal exports. I never thought that we would have to debate that again in the House, because I thought that there was agreement that we would not see that practice return. The Bill, however, deletes the very laws that made that debate go away and made clear what we wanted to see as a country. The Minister may say to us that the Government have no plans to remove such laws, but at the moment, the only plan on the table is the plan to remove them. That is the challenge here.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West did an incredible job in setting out the range of laws at risk. Supporting the amendment would be the first step towards taking 3,500 laws, possibly more, that would need to be rewritten, off the table. There is common agreement. Perhaps I am naive, but I have yet to meet anyone in this place who wants to reinstate live animal exports, or battery farming for hens. Those are settled matters, and yet we will now have to find parliamentary time for them, unless we can pass the amendment and take those issues off the table.

I am sure that there were firm words among Ministers after the Statutory Instrument Committee that sat yesterday. My hon. Friend talked about REACH and the chemicals regulations. Those chemicals regulations, which were part of another piece of legislation, were not known to DEFRA officials. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) said she knew that at least 800 pieces of legislation were up for grabs, but what that means in terms of the ability to do business next year, let alone in the years to come, is questionable. Taking major pieces of legislation off the table, including some that are not on the dashboard but we know will be affected by the Bill, will make the Government’s life simpler.

I plead with the Government to see sense, if not for the ducks in my local park, Lloyd Park, which are struggling, then for the hens and sheep that were being exported when I was a mere 15-year-old. Involvement in politics was then just a glint in my eye, but I was getting up early to shout at the docks. Those issues are not contentious, because there is a commitment to animal welfare across the House. Why would we put them up for grabs? Why would we raise the prospect of reducing our standards, or having to spend parliamentary time to rewrite regulations on them? Why not take those regulations off the table and move on? The point of the amendments is to take off the table the things that we all thought were not contentious. I suspect that our environmental colleagues who are listening in will hear this loudly.

If the Government do not do this, they are sending a clear message that they want to put these issues up for grabs, revisit old arguments, and water down animal welfare and conservation regulations, with all the chaos that will come with that. So many laws such as planning laws rest on those regulations. That is quite apart from the fact that colleagues in DEFRA are having nightmares about the effect on those 800 laws.

I hope that the Minister will give us some more positive news. She did not really take up my offer to suss out which employment protections the Government will absolutely keep, so that my constituents could be confident in supporting her, but perhaps she will do so on the environmental protections, and will reassure us that the ducks are safe and the killer shrimps will be defeated.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that I will reject amendments 74 and 77. It has been an absolute joy to hear a new shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Leeds North West, who shadows DEFRA. I have a couple of powerful responses to make to his points, but I will need time to go through them; as he knows, I am not a DEFRA Minister.

I do not understand why the Opposition are trying to create a huge amount of fear. Fundamentally, that comes from their standpoint of being part of the anti-Brexit brigade. We are simply trying to finally finish the process finally. As Members know, because I have said it many times, the Bill is enabling legislation. The measures in it, including the sunset, will provide for UK and devolved Ministers to make decisions to review, amend or repeal their REUL as they see fit. Where Ministers see fit, they have the power to preserve REUL that would otherwise be in scope of the sunset. That includes Ministers in the devolved Governments. There is no need to have specific exemptions. I am responding directly to amendments 74 and 77.

Secondary REUL that is outdated and no longer fit for purpose can be revoked or replaced. Such REUL can also be restated to maintain policy intent. As such, there is simply no need for any carve-outs for individual Departments, specific policy areas or sectors. REUL across all sectors of the economy in the UK is unfit for purpose, and it is right that it be reviewed and updated equally in all sectors and in the same timeframe.

A point was made about scrutiny. Departments will be expected to develop and deliver plans that outline their intention for each piece of retained EU law. The Brexit Opportunities Unit team will work with Departments to draw up those delivery plans and to ensure that the legislative process proceeds smoothly. The delivery plans will be subject to scrutiny via the internal Government or ministerial stock-take process. More information will follow, including on how to factor such processes into statutory instrument timetables.

There is no doubt that this is a considerable amount of work, but we do not enter politics or Government to be work-shy. The work will definitely be done. The sunset empowers all to think boldly about these regulations, and provides an impetus for Departments to remove unnecessary regulatory burdens.

Turning to amendment 77, the Bill will allow Departments to unleash innovation, and will propel growth across every area of our economy. The power in clause 15 to revoke or replace is an important, cross-cutting enabler of reform. Exempting regulations associated with environmental protections from the power will reduce the genuine reform that the Bill sets out to deliver. The UK is a world leader when it comes to environmental protection. In reviewing our retained EU law, we want to ensure that environmental law is fit for purpose and able to drive improved environmental outcomes. We remain committed to delivering on our legally binding target to halt nature’s decline by 2030. The Bill will not alter that. That is why we do not consider the proposed carve-out for environmental regulations to be necessary.

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Division 4

Ayes: 7

Noes: 8

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 75, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply to the following instruments—

(a) The Civil Aviation (Denied Boarding, Compensation and Assistance) Regulations 2005,

(b) Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations,

(c) The Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012,

(d) The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016,

(e) The Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011,

(f) The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012,

(g) The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015,

(h) The Cocoa and Chocolate Products (England) Regulations 2003,

(i) Commission Regulation (EU) No 748/2012 of 3 August 2012,

(j) The Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001, and

(k) The Bauer [C-168/18] and Hampshire [C-17/17] judgements.”

This amendment would exclude certain retained EU law which provides for consumer protections from the sunset in subsection (1).

--- Later in debate ---
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would certainly be happy to refer them to any consumer champion, because I think they would have a very strong case that they were not getting compensation in reasonable time and in a reasonable format, which is obviously what the Consumer Rights Act—it is a piece of UK legislation, but it echoes the requirements—does.

There are other things on the list, which is not comprehensive but is authoritative—after all, we have been told that that is acceptable—about the sorts of things that surely we should all want to put beyond doubt, such as when people’s pensions are at risk. We have all had cases in our constituencies of pensioners whose pensions were put at risk. They may have worked for companies that went bust, and now they need protection. I absolutely want to take up the challenge about not frightening vulnerable people. The pension protection fund itself would not disappear, because that is part of UK legislation, but the challenge is that the Bauer and Hampshire judgments set out what that fund can do. The issue is not that there would not be someone to whom we could refer our constituents, but let us be clear: if we delete the relevant legislation and do not replace it, that organisation will start to query what it can do to help our constituents. That may mean that they end up with a lower level of compensation.

It could be the same when it comes to people having their flight or train delayed. The Delay Repay claims have given most people a level of certainty and confidence about their travelling, and I think we all want to see that reinforced—we all think people should have a fair deal. Why would we therefore spend parliamentary time rewriting something that works? Why would we put up for grabs the amount that people can be charged for using a debit card, when many of our constituents are trying to use them to manage their finances because there is too much month at the end of their money? Why would we do that?

Why would we again put the content of chocolate up for grabs? Come on. We have seen what happened to Cadbury; we have all tasted the difference. Anyone here knows the limitations of Hershey. Yet here we are again, rewriting laws that we brought in to protect things so that consumers could have confidence and go about their business every day. That is the point about all this. It is not about leaving the EU; that has happened. It is not about an objection to leaving the EU; that debate has happened. It is about an objection to deleting laws we all agree on, and the waste of time that the legislation creates, especially in terms of consumer protection.

Again, I offer the hand of friendship to the Minister, although I am sure she will bite it off with glee at this point in the afternoon. If she can tell us precisely what will replace the regulations listed in the amendment, and commit that our constituents will retain the protection of those standards, she will have my support. That is the purpose of the amendments. If she can tell us what will happen to the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001, she will have our support, because people want that certainty. The parts of EU law to which the amendment relates refer to those bits of everyday life where people do not want the headache of uncertainty. I hope that the Minister will take up that offer, finally, as we consider the third list of regulations.

Now that we have been through some of the laws in question, I hope the Minister’s colleagues understand what is at stake. This might be a process, but we must remember the impact of it and the uncertainty that it creates. There is a risk that Ministers and MPs will sign off a piece of legislation only to find themselves having to explain to their constituents, “Ah yes, I was told that there wouldn’t be a dilution of your rights to compensation, but the Minister came forward with a change and, like with those pesky EU regulations I said I could not amend, the Minister has told me that I’ve got to like it or lump it.” Remember, the Bill does not offer any scope for amendment. I do not think Conservative Members would want to be in that constituency surgery explaining to somebody that, if they have been done over by Mastercard, they have been done over, or that their chocolate will have to taste bitter. That would be a bittersweet conversation.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Ghani
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I urge the Committee to reject amendments 75 and 78. The issue of scrutiny has come up again, and I find myself repeating that, as well as the dashboard, Departments will be expected to develop a delivery plan to outline their intention for each piece of retained EU law. I will try to go through each of the points raised to satisfy some of the questions.

A question was raised about electrical equipment and toy safety. 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. The Government remain committed to protecting consumers from unsafe products being placed on the market now and in the future. Although the Bill is unlikely to give us the powers needed to implement a new framework, we hope that the powers