Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, this has been a characteristically excellent debate which I think reflects the importance of the Bill. Before I get on to the substance of the issues raised, I will congratulate our two maidens, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, and my noble friend Lady Bray, on their fine maiden speeches. I hope that the House is a similarly engaged audience to the one that my noble friend Lady Bray had when she was presenting for the British Forces Broadcasting Service in Gibraltar. I noted with interest that she studied medieval history at St Andrews. I am also told that she was fired as a PPS in the other place in 2012 for voting against the coalition Government’s plans to reform this House. With those two bits of excellent experience, she will clearly make an excellent Member of this House.

Then we come on to excellent contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady. I profoundly disagreed with all of it, of course, but she put it extremely well. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who referred to her choice of “A Change Is Gonna Come” on “Desert Island Discs”. I was slightly more concerned by two of her other music choices on that programme—“Pieces of a Man” and “Burn It Down”. I hope neither of them is an omen for me or the House on some of our future debates. I congratulate both maiden speakers; I thought they did extremely well.

As we have had 60 speakers today, I am afraid noble Lords will understand that I cannot answer every Peer directly. I am sure that many of the points will come up again in Committee. I seem to have heard an awful lot of them in the Brexit withdrawal debates from essentially the same people, but I am sure we will raise the points again.

Before I turn to the wider contributions, let me first address the regret amendments tabled today by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. I am sure it will come as no surprise to either noble Lord that I disagree with the amendments on all points. I do not accept the characterisation that these powers are unprecedented or weaken the scrutiny of Parliament. Indeed, as has been said many times, many of these laws were brought into force with no scrutiny of any kind by this Parliament and were merely directly imposed by Brussels. I noted with interest my noble friend Lord Lilley’s remarks on how this process really worked in practice from the point of view of a UK Cabinet Minister.

Furthermore, the sifting committee for the more substantial powers will ensure that Parliament can debate and vote where it deems appropriate. The scrutiny role of Parliament is not reduced but rather enhanced through this Bill. Of course, we respect the role of the devolved Administrations, which is why the majority of the powers contained in the Bill are conferred on devolved Ministers. It will be up to the devolved Ministers and Administrations to decide which direction they take their stock of retained EU law.

On the final two points of the regret amendments, we should of course aim to complete these reforms as quickly as practically possible. They are necessary to seize the benefits of Brexit and I do not accept that this will cause significant uncertainty nor that, if it did, uncertainty alone is a reason not to make these legislative changes. With regard to environmental law, workers’ rights and the other areas that noble Lords have referred to, I refer all noble Lords to the commitments that have been made by me in this House so far—and I will no doubt do so many times in the Committee debates to come—and by Government Ministers in the other place.

I move now to the substantive points raised in the debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Frost for setting into motion the two reviews into retained EU law that have culminated in the Bill—he has a lot to be proud of—and for explaining the importance of removing REUL from the statute book.

I also pay tribute to the remarks of my noble friends Lord Hannan, Lord Lilley and Lord Jackson for making the obvious point that Parliament will have much more say over this legislation than it did during our time in the EU, when direct EU legislation did not receive full parliamentary scrutiny before it became law in the UK. Had we not left the EU, much of this legislation would be amendable by the EU as if it were secondary legislation, without any direct input from this Parliament at all. By treating this legislation in the same way as domestic secondary legislation for amendment purposes, it can be amended much more easily by delegated powers. It is therefore appropriate that the changes to this body of legislation can be done via secondary legislation. Requiring REUL reform to be subject to primary legislation would take decades in many cases and would see a marked reduction in the UK’s dynamism. My noble friend Lord Dobbs amplified this point, emphasising that the Bill has come through the elected Chamber of this Parliament with only government amendments. It is only right and proper that we view the Bill in light of that majority.

I also commend the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Jackson, who was right to note the majority that the Bill received at Third Reading in the other place and the lack of concern that this House often showed to powers that were exercised under the European Communities Act—another point also made by my noble friend Lord Hannan.

My noble friend Lord Howard of Rising made it clear that there are many opportunities for us to seize as part of Brexit. He is right to laud the success of our vaccine programme and to note, in the same vein as my noble friend Lord Lilley, that Parliament will have much more of a say in regulation that works on behalf of the UK.

I was disappointed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about parliamentary counsel and their work and approach. He is correct that parliamentary counsel are civil servants working for, and delivering the priorities of, the Government of the day. However, although I acknowledge the strength of the noble Lord’s views, it is not in keeping with the customary courtesy of Members to criticise those who cannot defend themselves in this Chamber.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom raised questions about why we are changing the EU withdrawal Act only five years after its passage. It was a bridging measure and was never intended to be on the statute book indefinitely; we discussed it at length at the time. Now that our future relationship with the EU is known and we have established a sense of legal certainty, it is right for us to review retained EU law. The Bill ensures that only retained EU law that we judge is right for the UK is assimilated into our statute book.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and many others are concerned that the sunset could be a regulatory cliff edge. In our judgment, a sunset is the quickest and most effective way to accelerate the review of the majority of retained EU law. A major cross-government programme is already under way to identify retained EU law that can be reformed, repealed or replaced. When the Bill receives Royal Assent, a cross-government legislative programme will commence to sensibly manage change ahead of that sunset date. Without the sunset as a default for retained EU law, we risk unsuitable or obsolete EU laws still being on our statute book in 10, 15 or even 20 years’ time, which should not be acceptable to anyone in this House. We do not need regulations on the issuing of a certificate for the export of cheeses that the UK has never exported. Nor do we need regulations that grant additional aid for the consumption of butter, or hundreds of other obsolete EU regulations. A sunset ensures that we can quickly and easily remove outdated legislation of this nature.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, made claims that the Government will need to pass nearly 4,000 SIs before the end of this year. That is absolutely not the case. Our work to date has indicated that the number of SIs would be in the hundreds, not the thousands. Of course, this is still a significant task, but it is certainly not the impossible one that has been portrayed today. My noble friend Lord Udny-Lister is right that our first-rate Civil Service and legal service are more than capable of delivering the work required.

A number of noble Lords raised environmental concerns, as they often do, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Bennett, who all claimed that this will somehow remove environmental protections. I can absolutely provide the reassurance that my rightly cynical noble friend Lord Randall was looking for. The Government will ensure that we continue to improve environmental outcomes for this country. The UK has a long record of environmental protection, most of which was never dependent on the EU. The Bill will not change that, nor will it change the world-leading Environment Act that this Conservative Government are proud to have passed.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, questioned whether this means that we are resiling from our commitment to food standards, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, questioned what this means for the FSA. The Government remain committed to promoting robust food standards, both nationally and internationally, to protect consumer interests, to facilitate international trade and to ensure that consumers can have confidence in the food they buy.

The trade unionists, the noble Lords, Lord Monks, Lord Hendy and Lord Woodley, have claimed that the Bill will lead to a downgrading of UK workers’ rights. We have had similar debates a number of times across this Chamber, and I have no doubt that we will continue to have them on issues such as TUPE. As I have said many times before, their claim could not be further from the case. We are proud of the UK’s excellent record on labour standards. We have one of the best workers’ rights records in the world, one of the lowest rates of unemployment and one of the highest minimum wages. As I have repeated many times, our high standards were never dependent on our membership of the European Union; indeed, in many areas, the UK provides for stronger protections for workers than are required by minimum EU standards.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Andrews, raised the important issue of the impacts of the Bill on devolution. The provisions in the Bill do not affect the devolution settlements, and they are not intended to restrict the competence of either the devolved legislatures or the devolved Governments. Rather, the majority of the powers will be conferred concurrently on the devolved Governments, enabling devolved Ministers to make active decisions on retained EU law in their respective areas of devolved competence. The UK Government are committed to respect the devolution settlements to safeguard the union and to ensure that the provisions in the Bill work for all parts of the UK, and we will continue our discussions with the devolved Administrations with that in mind. When using the powers in the Bill, we will use the appropriate mechanisms, such as the common frameworks, to engage with the devolved Governments to allow for proper joined-up decision-making across this United Kingdom.

Speaking of devolution, the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Hoey, raised concerns about the specific impacts of the Bill on Northern Ireland. The territorial scope of the Bill will be UK-wide. It is constitutionally appropriate that the core measures in the Bill apply across all parts of the United Kingdom. As my honourable colleagues in the other place have committed, the UK Government will ensure that the necessary legislation is in place to uphold the UK’s international obligations, including the Northern Ireland protocol and the trade and co-operation agreement, after the sunset date.

To answer the specific question from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, on case law, the REUL Bill does not require the creation of brand-new case law across the piece. The Bill’s measures facilitate UK courts to treat retained case law in a similar way to judgments of other foreign jurisdictions by encouraging departure from retained case law in a careful and managed way to allow for the proper development of UK law.

Many noble Lords and noble Baronesses, including the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, have expressed concern about Clause 15(5) through the somewhat misplaced fear that it means that standards can only be lowered. Let me be clear: that is not a correct interpretation. By removing unnecessary or unsuitable regulations, or by consolidating multiple regulations into one, it will be perfectly possible to add new regulations with higher standards under the powers to revoke, provided that the overall regulatory burden is not increased. My noble friends Lady Bray and Lady Lea recognised that point in their speeches, noting that we can keep our high standards with the Bill. I can confirm that the Government share their ambition to ensure that the body of legislation is better suited to the UK. The review of legislation will enable us to improve regulation for business and the economy, which I also hope addresses the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, although I suspect that it will not.

On business and trade, my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the issue of imports and exports. I can confirm that we have already modified EU legislation covering the use of export restrictions to manage short supply, to make it effective in the UK following our exit from the European Union.

My noble friends Lord McLoughlin and Lord Hodgson spoke eloquently about their respective committee reports. The Government welcome the publication of the reports and I look forward to engaging with the recommendations that have been made. I hope my noble friends will understand that, given the reports’ recent publications, I cannot yet comment on what position the Government will take on the recommendations, but I will carefully study them and a formal response will be made in the usual manner.

Turning to the many comments on impact assessments and post-implementation reviews made by many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Hodgson, we recognise their importance and departments will be expected to take a proportionate approach to analysing the impact of SIs. For smaller-impact measures, this could include the completion of the impact section in an Explanatory Memorandum, a de minimis assessment or a fuller impact assessment, dependent on the regulation in question. Where expected business impacts exceed the current threshold of £5 million of annual business impacts, in the usual way departments will need to submit a full impact assessment for independent scrutiny if their change is a regulatory provision, as defined in the current better regulation framework, to which we are fully committed.

I am, of course, grateful for the recent recommendations of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee on impact assessments and will ensure that my officials make clear to departments the expectations for providing enough information to Parliament when studying new regulations. Departments will be expected to conduct proportionate monitoring and evaluation of their measures up to and including full post-implementation review. My officials will be providing more guidance on this to departments shortly.

I would like to reassure my noble friend Lord Balfe that the Government are committed to maintaining comprehensive safety standards, as he would expect, including in civil aviation and all manner of transport. Similarly, I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—although again I suspect she will not accept the reassurance—that, while I do not agree with her assessment of the level of scrutiny that laws received within the EU institutions, I can confirm that the Government will not, of course, weaken building safety standards.

This Bill will ensure that we can end retained EU law as a legal category, simplifying and bringing certainty to our statute book. It will also ensure that we can bring forward genuine reform, now ensuring that the UK’s regulatory system is suited to our needs. The Government are determined to see the opportunities of Brexit and I know that the Bill delivers that result.

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Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House, and that it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House that they consider the bill in the following order: Clauses 1 to 6, Schedule 1, Clauses 7 to 10, Schedule 2, Clauses 11 to 20, Schedules 3 and 4, Clauses 21 to 23, Title.

Motion agreed.