Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Relevant documents: 28th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 25th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

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, before I get into my speech, I note with great anticipation that we will be hearing not one but two maiden speeches today. We are indeed blessed. Let me first warmly welcome my noble friend Lady Bray of Coln and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady of Upper Holloway. I am delighted to note that Lady O’Grady has come from advocating for a people’s assembly in 2013 to joining us here today—quite the journey. I look forward to both their contributions to this debate.

First, I thank the Minister for Industry and Investment Security for ensuring that the Bill has been sent to us in this place following much reasoned and thorough debate in the other place. At all stages there were commitments made across a number of issues, including our international obligations, employment rights and environmental protections. I reiterate those commitments now and of course will continue to do so throughout the passage of the Bill.

The retained EU law Bill is the next step in reasserting the sovereignty of Parliament and untangling the United Kingdom from nearly 50 years of EU membership. Retained EU law was never intended to sit on our statute book indefinitely. Indeed, the time is now right to review retained EU law and end it as a special legal category. The Bill will achieve this by enabling the Government to more easily amend, revoke or replace retained EU law by the end of 2023. This will ensure that the Government are able to create legislation which better suits the UK without taking decades of parliamentary time to achieve.

The Bill enables the UK to fully grasp the myriad opportunities to create modern and agile regulation, to support the ambitions of our sovereign nation. There are countless opportunities for reform ahead of us, ranging from financial services to data, and from artificial intelligence to transport and energy. Through the Bill, the Government will work to develop a new, pro-growth, high-standards regulatory framework that gives businesses the confidence to innovate, invest, scale up and therefore to create more jobs.

Clause 1 lays the groundwork for an ambitious and efficient overhaul of all retained EU law. It establishes 31 December 2023 as the sunset date on which retained EU law will cease to exist, unless there is further action by government and Parliament to preserve it as “assimilated law” without its special EU law features. In this way, the sunset ensures that outdated and unnecessary laws are quickly and easily repealed. It will also provide government departments with a clear timeline to seize reform opportunities. Indeed, a sunset is the quickest and most effective way to accelerate reform across over 400 policy areas and deliver the rapid repeal of retained EU law.

It is only right to set the sunset of retained EU law as the default position. This ensures that we are proactively choosing to preserve laws inherited from our membership of the EU only where they work in the best interests of the United Kingdom. Some retained EU law is of course inoperable and removing it from the statute book is merely good democratic governance.

The sunset extension mechanism, found in Clause 2, will allow specified instruments or specified descriptions of retained EU law to continue in force beyond the sunset date where that is necessary and in our interests. The sunset date cannot be extended beyond the end of 23 June 2026. It is my hope that this clause proves unnecessary, but it would be irresponsible not to include a clause to allow for unforeseen circumstances. Together, these two clauses will facilitate reforms that will help to grow our economy, deliver the opportunities Brexit provides and support advances in technology and science.

From the end of 2023, the Bill will end the special status of retained EU law on our statute book. Clauses 3 to 5 will ensure that EU rights, obligations and remedies retained by Section 4 of the withdrawal Act will cease to apply and that the application of the principle of supremacy and general principles of EU law as rules of interpretation will end. The retention of these principles provided legal continuity at the end of the transition period, but it would be constitutionally inappropriate to leave these retained EU law principles on the UK statute book in perpetuity. In many cases, the principles and rights in question already overlap with well-established provisions in domestic law. This has the potential to undermine the clarity of our law. To reflect these changes, Clause 6 renames retained EU law which has not been sunset as “assimilated law” after the end of 2023. This is not, as some have said, a simple “rebranding” exercise but is a new body of law without the EU law rules of interpretation.

Where further provision is necessary, the Bill provides powers in Clause 8 and Clauses 12 to 14 to codify specific rights and interpretive effects clearly and accessibly in domestic statute. We are proud of the history of the UK legal system, in which common-law principles and legislation are well established. These reforms will continue that tradition and ensure that our law continues to develop as one best suited to the UK context.

Past judgments of the courts have set too high a bar for UK courts to depart from retained case law and the judgments of EU courts. Now that we have left the European Union, we must reassess when it is right to depart from retained case law and establish more UK-focused precedents. The retained EU law Bill will free our courts to develop case law on retained EU law in a way that is right for the United Kingdom. Clause 7 introduces new tests for higher courts to apply when considering departure from retained case law. The tests give higher courts greater clarity on the factors to consider, and greater freedom to decide when it is appropriate to depart from that retained case law. The clause will also facilitate more decisions on departure from retained case law. It empowers lower courts to refer points of law to higher courts for a decision on whether to depart. It also confers on the law officers of the UK and on the devolved Governments similar reference powers and gives them the right to join cases to argue with regard to departure from retained case law.

Clause 9 gives the judiciary powers in connection with the ending of the supremacy of EU law. Courts and tribunals will issue incompatibility orders and will be able to grant appropriate remedies in legal proceedings where retained direct EU legislation cannot be read consistently with other pieces of domestic legislation.

Retained direct EU legislation, composed mainly of EU regulations over which the UK Parliament had no real say, often does not reflect the UK’s priorities or objectives to drive growth. We are currently forced to treat some of this legislation as equivalent to an Act of Parliament when amending it. This limits our ability to make vital reforms and is constitutionally inappropriate.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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In respect of the legislation that is to be revoked or re-enacted, is my noble friend going to tell the House what consultation there will be with the various stakeholders, who must run into the thousands?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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When secondary law is implemented there is a well-established procedure for appropriate consultations, which of course will take place. All those stakeholders are able to have their say through many Members of both Houses of Parliament as well.

Clause 10 will therefore ensure that retained direct principal EU legislation and Section 4 EU withdrawal Act rights are downgraded, ensuring that they are treated as equivalent to secondary legislation for the purposes of amendment.

It is critical to ensure that this body of law can be updated, amended and reformed using appropriate delegated powers. Without these measures, thousands of regulations will become stagnant—unable to stay up to date, react to new information or implement new international agreements without requiring a new Act of Parliament. Clauses 10 and 11 support this Government’s commitment to taking the necessary steps to put the UK statute book on a sustainable footing, guaranteeing that we can seize all the opportunities that leaving the EU supplies.

The powers in the Bill, combined with the downgrading of retained direct principal legislation, will make it easier for Ministers to amend or repeal retained EU law without the need for primary legislation. The powers have also been designed to deal with matters arising in relation to the sunset and the ending of retained EU law as a legal category at the end of 2023. It has become increasingly clear that there is a lack of subordinate legislation-making powers to remove retained EU law from the statute book. It is appropriate to take powers in the Bill to address this.

The retained EU law dashboard has identified over 3,700 pieces of retained EU law across 16 departments. While some of these laws will be preserved, of course, many are outdated, some are unduly burdensome, and others are increasingly unsuited to the UK’s economic circumstances. Therefore, it is necessary to have powers in the Bill that are capable of acting on a wide range of retained EU law covering a variety of different policy areas. This is not a power grab by the Government.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Rather, the powers in the Bill will enable us to seize the opportunities of Brexit through reviewing the laws that were imposed on us by Brussels during our membership of the European Union. Sectoral-specific legislation simply cannot be passed in a timely enough manner to ensure that these regulations are made suitable for the United Kingdom.

The powers in the Bill will enable the Government to more easily replace retained EU law with domestic laws that are tailored to the UK and, importantly, work in the interests of the United Kingdom, while the power to update will ensure that the UK keeps pace with advances in science and technology over time.

The Government recognise the importance of ensuring that legislation undergoes the appropriate level of scrutiny.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Well, it is more than some of the EU legislation did. I did not mean to start a debate on this.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My name is on the list.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I will take the noble Lord’s point.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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I merely want to ask the Minister: what proportion of the legislation was, as he described it, imposed? Presumably, it was only the laws that we voted against.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Given his direct experience, the noble Lord knows exactly how the procedures work in Brussels. The point I was making was that the vast majority was introduced into UK law directly, without any appropriate scrutiny from Parliament beforehand. Obviously, there were lots of discussions in Brussels. He took part in some on behalf of the Council, and I took part in many in the European Parliament as well. But there was no scrutiny in this Parliament for much of that legislation.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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I do not mean to be discourteous; I really am not. But the European Union Committee of this House and the European Scrutiny Committee of the other place sat for nearly 50 years doing the scrutiny that the Minister is saying did not take place. It was very heavy: it used 72 Peers from this Chamber in its structure. There was quite a lot of scrutiny going on.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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There was scrutiny but no ability for Parliament to amend any of it, of course.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We will have this debate as we progress with the legislation, I am sure.

As I was saying, the Government recognise the importance of ensuring that legislation undergoes the appropriate level of scrutiny. The Bill has been drafted to ensure there are robust scrutiny measures and safeguards in place. This includes a sifting procedure for regulations proposed to be made under the powers to restate and the powers to revoke or replace.

Now that we have left the EU and regained our sovereignty, it is important that the UK has a regulatory system designed to benefit UK consumers and businesses. To ensure that the UK makes the most of the opportunities outside the EU, and as outlined in the The Benefits of Brexit report published in January last year, the UK is reforming how it monitors and evaluates future regulation.

It is important that we repeal the business impact target, which has too narrow a focus on the impacts of regulation. Our new system will ensure earlier scrutiny of proposed regulation; a more holistic assessment of its impacts on UK households, businesses and consumers; and a regulatory framework that is therefore fit for purpose.

We have seen how our legislature has evolved since leaving the EU. It is right that we now take the next step and relinquish from our statute book retained EU laws that do not work in the interests of the United Kingdom. The Bill ensures that we can achieve that, by seizing the freedoms afforded to us by Brexit.

The Government have read with interest the reports from the DPRRC and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I look forward to hearing reasoned comments on these from many noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord McLoughlin and members of both of those committees.

The Bill will benefit people and businesses across our country, reassert our sovereign approach to law and regulation, and support the interests of our United Kingdom, rather than those of Brussels. I know that many noble Lords in this Chamber will agree with me when I say that, in this current climate, protecting the UK’s best interests is of the utmost importance. We must therefore continue to surge forward to ensure that our statute book is put on a sustainable footing for all four sovereign nations of the United Kingdom. I beg to move.

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Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to have the chance at last to speak again on one of my favourite subjects: getting rid of retained EU law from our statute book and supporting the Bill. It is also a pleasure to speak straight after the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman; I very much enjoyed our discussions across the Dispatch Box in 2021, but I am also glad that her undoubted eloquence, of which we have just heard another sample, and her untiring efforts have not yet succeeded in slowing the progress towards getting rid of the effect of EU law in this country.

I make that point because the immediate origins of the Bill lie in decisions I took as a Minister in 2021. But the real origins obviously go much further back: they are part of the logic of delivering a meaningful Brexit in which we have extricated ourselves properly and fully from the EU legal framework, and of the vision on which this party won an election in 2019.

We know the situation: we have on our statute book virtually all the laws we took on in the period of EU membership, thanks to the 2018 withdrawal Act. This came with all the related interpretative concepts: the supremacy of EU law, ECJ jurisprudence and so on. We even upgraded those laws to the status of primary legislation and prevented British courts from reinterpreting EU law doctrines. The effect has been to create a defined body of law, with its own concepts and rules, within the UK statute book. Obviously, such an arrangement can only be provisional; it can only ever be a “short-term bridging measure”, as I described it in a Statement in December 2021.

When it passes, the Bill will bring that situation to an end. It is the product of the work that began in 2021, when I announced that the Government would conduct a review that would start the process of removing the special status of retained EU and reviewing its content comprehensively. That review is complete, and the corpus of law is known. The Bill gives Ministers the necessary powers not only to deal with law on the statute book but to remove interpretive principles, such as those in Clause 4 of the 2018 Act. It is worth dwelling on that point: it is not even clear what law was retained by that clause, as has been noted. It simply enables lawyers to say, “Whatever the law was before, it now is afterwards”—and we cannot live with that sort of uncertainty on our statute book.

Getting this right is necessary to make Brexit work properly. It may be that some noble Lords in this Chamber opposed Brexit and do not want it to work—

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Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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I know it is hard to believe. I would understand their opposition to the Bill. But noble Lords who profess to accept Brexit surely must accept the logic of the Bill. It makes no sense for this whole body of rules with special status to remain in place on our statute book for a prolonged period. Practically, our lawyers, judges and civil servants cannot deal with two separate statute books, with completely different interpretive principles and case law. We must find a way of changing this and assimilating these laws into our legal system, adjusting and redrafting as necessary.

I recognise that some critics of the Bill will say, “We accept that, but the pace and the process are the problem”. Responding to that, I point to the nature of the powers that will be granted, the criticism of which has been absurdly exaggerated. They are targeted at a specific set of laws, and they exclude any powers to deal with the fundamentals of primary legislation; they are about secondary legislation changing secondary legislation. I cannot see the difficulty with this. It is relevant that this legislation was passed by a body outside this country, often against the opposition of this Government.

To finish, these inherited EU laws have little real legitimacy now that we have left the system that created them. We cannot leave them there for decades while we get around to passing endless primary legislation to replace laws that never came in in that way in the first place.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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The noble Lord really must draw his comments to a close.

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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I will do. We lived for 47 years under a system in which we did not control our own laws. The Bill is not only necessary and essential; it is unavoidable and part of the logic of Brexit. I look forward to supporting it now and in Committee.