Lord Lisvane debates involving the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 6th Jun 2023
Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 15th May 2023
Thu 2nd Mar 2023
Thu 23rd Feb 2023
Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for the work he has done on Motion B1 with the listing of powers, rights and liabilities. I note that he will not press his amendment because he has got it to the point of getting a pledge from the Government.

Perhaps I might ask the Minister what the timescale is for putting these on the dashboard, because they are not currently on the dashboard. The last time they were searchable on the dashboard, only 28 rights, powers and liabilities were listed. They did not include, for instance, Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which, as all noble Lords know, concerns the right to equal pay for equal work; it goes further than the Equality Act 2010 and is an absolutely crucial instrument for equal pay. They also did not include Article 6.2 of the habitats directive, which imposes an obligation to take appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of habitats. Those are two examples of key rights and powers that need to be on the dashboard, and there must be many more. Can the Minister tell us how many he thinks will be listed and by when?

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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My Lords, I am delighted to support Motion E1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich. At a time when there is increasing concern about the balance between Parliament and the Executive, I was rather surprised that the elected House rejected the idea of a Joint Committee to sift proposals, which might well be of disadvantage to their constituents. I was also surprised—perhaps “saddened” might be the better word—that the Government saw fit to take that view of the amendment in the Commons. This Motion, as my noble friend outlined, returns to the charge, but provides a Commons-only Select Committee—a sifting committee—rather than a Joint Committee.

There has been much talk about amendable SIs. It may be part of the Government’s case, or be seen by the Government as strengthening their case, to portray them as a whole new category of legislative procedure, where SIs become like mini-Bills, with all the complications that would ensue.

Much as I appreciate the noble Viscount’s wish that these would be broad, sunlit uplands, I do not think that this is the case in this instance. As far as I am aware, there are only two examples of statute providing for amendable SIs, via Section 1(2) of the Census Act 1920 and Section 27(3) of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. SIs under either of those Acts are truly amendable because, if an amendment is approved, it becomes immediately effective.

What this Motion proposes is a little different; it is much closer to the super-affirmative procedure applied to legislative reform and regulatory reform orders, which does not seem to have frightened the horses in either House. There is a difference, yes, because in that super-affirmative procedure it is a matter of discretion as to whether the Minister accepts the advice of the sifting committee as to amendments that might be made. Commons Standing Orders 141 and 142 provide for that difference of opinion between the Minister and the sifting committee. The Motion before your Lordships would remove that ministerial discretion—but I find it hard to see how allowing the two Houses to take the decision would be such a dreadful thing, unless of course the Government see it as infringing upon the prerogative of the Executive, which would confirm the worst fears of many.

Whatever one’s views on the issue, it is very important to keep a sense of proportion. I cannot imagine the heavy weaponry that is implied by some in this Motion being deployed at all often. The Government, if they had any sense, would want to reach agreement with a sifting committee rather than seeking the adversarial outcome of a vote on the Floor of the House. In any event, what would be so wrong about accepting the view of an all-party committee which had identified in a government proposal hazards for business, the environment, civil liberties or any of the other fields in which Parliament is supposed to be the guardian of our citizens’ interests?

The Minister criticised the proposal on the basis that it was novel and untested. If one is going to improve the effectiveness of Parliament, there will from time to time be procedures that are novel. If it were not the case, we would be living the rest of our lives encased in a sort of parliamentary aspic. He also said that it was untested. In a parliamentary environment, you cannot have a novel procedure unless it is untested so, with great respect to the Minister, I would dismiss that criticism.

I conclude with a short look ahead, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, invited your Lordships to do, to the further stages that might ensue. There is an urban myth to the effect that two exchanges is the limit. I had some involvement with the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill in 2007, and on that occasion there were seven exchanges between the two Houses. Other Bills have demonstrated more than two exchanges on a number of occasions. On something that raises an issue of constitutional principle—and I borrow the description of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in speaking to his Motion—it would be right if the Commons were invited on several occasions to consider whether it had got this right after all.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, on the work that he has put into this. As he knows, I supported the original amendment and put my name to it, and I congratulate him on all the work that he has done since. I totally sympathise with all the sentiments that everybody has expressed. It is most regrettable—and I say this as somebody who campaigned to leave the EU—that we took the very undemocratically imposed EU law given to both Houses of Parliament, which we could neither amend nor reject, and now we are replacing that by giving that power to the Executive through statutory instruments under the negative procedure, which means that we cannot amend them or do anything about them at all. I do not think that that was what people voted for when they voted to leave the EU; I think that they wanted to restore parliamentary sovereignty, and this does not do it.

Having said all that, we are a revising Chamber; we asked the Commons to think again; they have thought again. It is a matter of regret to me that I have not even persuaded my leave colleagues in this House to support the amendment, let alone in the other place, and I do not think it is our job to play endless ping-pong. The House of Commons is elected; it has spoken, and I think we should go along with what it says.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 8. Before I do so, and in the interest of brevity, I entirely associate myself with the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, because he encapsulated many of the ongoing concerns of the amendments in this group.

To a large extent Amendment 8 is redundant now that I support the amendments to delete Clause 2 that are consequential on the government amendments—I take the opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lord Callanan and indeed the Secretary of State on having the good sense to table the amendments which the Government are moving in this group.

On government Amendment 1 and the others my noble friend referred to, can he say on what basis the secondary legislation and retained direct EU legislation contained in Schedule 1 have been chosen and what consultation the Government have undertaken to determine the contents of that list?

Briefly on my Amendment 8, I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for helping me draft the amendment and for the briefing I received from it in that regard. What the amendment has identified remains an issue with one category of legislation that is not covered by other amendments in the group. The purpose of Amendment 8 was to ensure that any retained EU law which is not identified as such until after the sunset date is excepted from the sunset provisions in Clause 1. The review of REUL was announced by my noble friend Lord Frost, looking at the UK Government retained EU law dashboard from Tableau Public, as referred to at paragraph 13 of the Explanatory Notes, which states that the Government are now

“in the position to ensure REUL can be revoked, replaced, restated, updated and removed or amended to reduce burdens”.

I support entirely the opportunity given to us today to do that.

However, the Bill intends to go further to facilitate the review and provides that it should be carried out by the end of 2023. Given that we now know there are almost 5,000 pieces of retained EU law, as identified in the EU law dashboard, the Government must confirm whether the most recent Explanatory Note is correct or whether they expect the number to rise again.

I refer to the briefing I received from the FSA—the Food Standards Agency—which itemised in an extremely helpful tableau the reasons why it supports those pieces of legislation included in Schedule 1. However, the FSA says:

“We have had long-standing ambitions to reform the food and feed regulatory system and we welcome the opportunity to focus our attention on this. We recognise that meaningful reform must include consultation with the food industry, consumers and stakeholders, and I look forward to working with you”.

So the question I put to my noble friend is: have the Government allowed sufficient time to ensure that the consultation that the Food Standards Agency wishes to conduct will be permitted to take place by the time Royal Assent is achieved?

My final question to the Minister is: if such a category comes to light within the three categories that have been identified as forming the retained EU law that forms the subject of the Bill after the Bill leaves this place and obtains Royal Assent, what opportunities are there to revisit that to ensure that that category is included the sunset clause, or can we assume that it will continue in existence in its current form, as currently on the statute book?

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his kind reference to what I said in Committee and subsequently. In order to set the mind of the noble Viscount at rest, I suggest that the wording relating to the Joint Committee in Amendment 2 is entirely correct.

It is a very bad idea to try to regulate parliamentary proceedings by means of statute, and it very often ends in tears or worse. In this case, should Amendment 2 survive into the final version of the Bill presented for assent, it will be for the Houses to set up a Joint Committee. That Joint Committee, following the ancient practice that the interpretation of the orders of reference of the committee are a matter for that committee, will take a view on what constitutes “substantial”, so there will be a certain amount of flexibility available at that point. It will also not be justiciable, because the operation of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights would prevent a court second-guessing what the committee decided.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for giving way, and I hate to cross swords with him on this matter, but the trigger point of “substantial change” is quite narrow. My noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke about lack of consultation, or inadequate consultation. That might surely be a reason for using the trigger power.

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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I absolutely agree and, as the noble Viscount has made clear, a number of things could be interpreted as of sufficient gravity to trigger, we hope, the powers in the Bill, then the Act, and it would be for the Joint Committee to decide—as a number of committees of your Lordships’ House already decide—that the lack of consultation is a serious flaw in the bringing forward of proposals for, for example, delegated legislation. So I hope I have set the noble Viscount’s mind at rest, but I am happy to talk to him outside the Chamber if further reassurance is required.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch Portrait Lord Pearson of Rannoch (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I ask noble Lords who support Amendment 2 how it is that they now wish to involve Parliament and our democracy in getting rid of these laws when they were perfectly happy to see them imposed in a wholly anti-democratic process. I describe it as such because all the laws which the Government now wisely wish to cancel were proposed in secret in the European Commission. Their national interest was then negotiated in secret in the Committee of Permanent Representatives, after which they were signed off in the European Council and Parliament, which could not change them. Our Select Committees could indeed scrutinise a tiny sample of them, or even recommend them for debate in the Commons or Lords, but, once those debates, which could not change them, had taken place, they became our law. So why do the proposers and friends of Amendment 2 now wish to subject the process of their abolition to our democratic processes? And, talking of which, what do they say about the fact that the Bill has already been through the Commons?

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Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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I am sorry to press the noble and learned Lord—while looking straight at your Lordships’ House—but is the concept that there will then be on the Order Paper proposed amendments to the statutory instrument, or will there be an informal recommendation by the Select Committee? Those are not the same things. I would be very pleased if they were a power to amend statutory instruments, and I would really like to know what procedure is contemplated.

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I seek to answer the question. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, will correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand it the idea is that the amendments—which might come from the Joint Committee or from another source, as foreseen in sub-paragraph (3) in the amendment—would come forward and could be to put to either House or both Houses as Motions that a certain order should be laid in a form so amended. If that Motion was agreed to—it is a sidestep procedurally because it is not acting on the text of the order itself—and the will of either House was that there should be such amendments then it would be for Ministers to re-lay the order, taking those amendments and the decision of the House or Houses into account.

Lord Judge Portrait Lord Judge (CB)
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My Lords, I feel like Henry V before the siege of Harfleur. Looking around, I see:

“greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start”.

Just like those poor chaps outside Harfleur, I suspect your Lordships all want it to be over quickly, and that is my intention.

This amendment is very simple. It is my answer to the letter I received from the Government about the Bill which I read out to the Chamber at Second Reading. It does not seek to preserve a single law, in any of the 4,000 pieces of material we are looking at, which Parliament wishes to revoke. Equally, it does not seek to revoke a single law which Parliament wishes to retain. It has nothing to do with that. Its objective is to ask that Parliament has a chance to look at what is proposed and to examine those proposals, not for a very long time, so that Parliament and not the Executive can decide.

If this amendment, or any of the amendments in this group, had reflected the statute in draft—the Bill, in other words—most of the arguments we have had over however long it has been would have been quite unnecessary. Maybe an amendment of this kind would have achieved that; I am not particularly supporting my own but all the amendments in this group.

Let us just go back. Probably the most persuasive argument against joining the Common Market in 1972 was that it gifted power over our legislative processes to an institution which was not wholly elected here and was not answerable exclusively to the electorate in the United Kingdom. That argument was rejected and lost, and the result is that, through the processes which we supported, we have been subject to laws directly enforceable here in the United Kingdom, created by a system of directions from the Common Market—now the European Union—which were converted into unchallengeable statutory instruments. As we now know, there are something like 4,000 still extant.

Given the time available, I will not explain what a pernicious effect all that had on the way in which statutory instruments have taken over primary legislation. But, importantly—I am stating the obvious, yet it is overlooked from time to time—what we call EU retained law is British law. It is our law; it came from an outside source and was introduced here to be enforced here, through our statutory and parliamentary system, but it is our law.

I cannot begin to imagine how the country as a whole would react if, instead of being able to dismiss it as EU retained law, we were able to look at this problem: we are going to give the Government the power to revoke all the laws relating to the environment and to employment—all the issues argued about in this House. Having done that, we will give them the power to bring in new ones, changing the way in which they operate. If we did not have this disguise of “EU retained”, I venture to suggest that no Government would be doing what this Government are doing about this particular group of laws. Until we appreciate that we are dealing with our law, which is subject to this Bill, we are not facing the reality of it.

Let us go to the most powerful argument in favour of Brexit: legislative processes should be returned to Parliament. Of course, that is the answer to “What happened when we entered the Common Market?” We will change it and go back to where we were. I do not think that “Taking back control” was just a happy slogan; it reflected a true constitutional principle. However—this is the heart of the amendment—it did not follow that this power should be given to a Minister of the Crown. It is as simple as that. The objective was not for the Executive to take back control; it was for Parliament to take back control. If we are going to honour the whole basis on which taking back control was designed to work, and was seen and appreciated to be going to work, we have to do what is required and return this power to Parliament.

The idea that we will suddenly cease to have secondary legislation is nonsense; we need secondary legislation. However, for these issues, we need proper examination and proper scrutiny. The proposal in this amendment is that we should have it. It does not propose—and could not, as I emphasised earlier—the survival of a single EU law. It could not, unless Parliament agreed. That is the objective of the amendment.

I understood the argument at Second Reading that this Bill does no more than was done to us by the EU, so why should this power that was given to the Common Market not be exercised by a Minister of the Crown? In effect, the argument was that we should just obey what we are told. However, those who advanced that argument had believed it to be wrong—a mistake and a constitutional aberration. If you believe that, surely the mistake that was made in 1972 should not be repeated here in 2023. I beg to move.

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 141A in my name, which has cross-party support, for which I am most grateful. Noble Lords in all parts of the Committee have been fiercely critical of the cut-off date. However, even if the present draconian date is replaced with something a little saner, the task of assessing and taking decisions on so many instruments will be huge.

My amendment, like several others in this group, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has remarked, is designed to give Parliament a say in that process. As many noble Lords on both sides of the issue acknowledge, some of these instruments will be of no great significance. But there will be many of much greater weight, whose survival, whether in their original or an amended form, will be of huge importance to our fellow citizens. There will of course be instruments, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out in his lapidary intervention on the first day of Committee, whose survival unamended will be almost a matter of course because we would not want to get rid of them—nobody would.

In this group, Amendments 43, 50, 62A and of course the amendment we are now specifically debating seek to give an active role to Parliament in an otherwise Executive-dominated process. My amendment goes a little further in providing for a substantial parliamentary assessment—including whether there has been adequate consultation—and for a process of suggested amendment, as part of what one might call this triaging activity. It does not deal with the unannounced repeal, which is a real problem. It could easily be adapted to do precisely that on Report, if that were acceptable. Of course, the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, does that.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

Lord Lisvane Excerpts
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I think the Minister confirmed that Parliament cannot amend an SI. We can block an SI.

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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My Lords, I direct the Minister’s attention to the Civil Contingencies Act. While she thinks about that, in view of the excoriating criticism levelled by a number of your Lordships’ committees at framework Bills, I also ask her to reflect on the irony of defending this beta-gamma piece of legislation on the grounds that it is a framework Bill?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I think we have heard a number of general points—I just want to maintain the level of humour. I therefore want to move back to transport and try to complete my response on these amendments.

Lord Wilson of Dinton Portrait Lord Wilson of Dinton (CB)
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I support the wise and well-expressed advice and views of my noble friend Lady Meacher. I was not going to speak but I am deeply disturbed by this legislation.

I said at Second Reading that I thought that this was bad government. I repeat that. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, is right: we need to know what EU-derived laws the Government propose to keep, amend or abolish. But this is not the way to do it. The Government should do the work first. This is lazy government and it is very improper.

It is 50 years since I first sat in the Box as a Private Secretary to a noble Lord, and I have been here for many Bills and attended many sessions in this House. I have never heard this kind of debate or seen this kind of Bill. It is shameful that the Government have not done the work. The right thing to do is for the Government to withdraw the Bill, go away and do the work, and decide what they want to keep, what they want to amend and what they want to abolish, and then tell Parliament so that it can debate and scrutinise what the Government want to do—and it can be a proper process with consultation. That will take longer, but the Government are taking on a very big job with huge complexity and scale. What you do not do is take sweeping powers which largely ignore Parliament, with the Government simply saying what they want the law to be.

I find great irony in the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Frost, that we never were consulted before. The Government, having complained about the EU being tyrannical and dictating our laws, want to substitute the Government having the same tyranny themselves. I do not think that works. Brexit was based on the return of sovereignty to Parliament. Do the Government still believe that? If so, will they act on it in relation to this Bill?

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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My Lords, I support every word just spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, and earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

On the generality of the issues raised by this group of amendments, I say very gently to the noble Lord, Lord Frost, that he might like to consider whether his intervention earlier damaged the Government’s case rather more than assisting it. I have been involved, in one way or another, with the processes of this institution now for more than half a century. I have to say that his description of delegated legislation, and the implications of Parliament handing it, is not one I recognise.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, this Bill is objectionable both in form and in content. As to form, I cannot possibly improve on the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Like her, I have been a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and I absolutely support and uphold the principles that it has enunciated, in particular in relation to this Bill.

There is one point that I could add to that, which is that we have had discussions this morning about how long it would take to draft, introduce and debate statutory instruments to replace those EU-derived laws which are sought to be removed. Let me just point out that the sunset clause means that, if the Minister decides not to introduce a statutory instrument to preserve those rights, they will disappear without any debate whatever. They will just simply evaporate.

As to content, my concern is with workers’ rights. I have to declare that I have spent most of the past 45 years of practice at the Bar dealing with workers’ rights. I want to make a few very short points. First, all the labour law rights, workers’ rights, employment rights—call them what you will—that we are concerned with in the United Kingdom are UK law. Whatever their derivation, whatever their provenance, it is UK law that we are talking about. Let me remind the House that many of the laws that we have, not derived necessarily from the EU, also fulfil other international legal obligations deriving from the International Labour Organization or from the European Social Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights, which are both instruments of the Council of Europe and have nothing whatever to do with the EU.

For example, our unfair dismissal law satisfies ILO and European Social Charter obligations. The protection in Section 146 of the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the protection for trade union activists against discrimination for trade union activity, has been moulded by both the ILO jurisprudence and a particular decision of the European Court of Human Rights interpreting Article 11 of the European convention—I refer to Wilson and Palmer v the United Kingdom. Likewise the protection of our right to strike fulfils clear obligations under ILO convention 87, Article 6.4 of the European Social Charter and Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. All these are treaties and particular provisions which have been specifically ratified by the United Kingdom.

When a lawyer is consulted by a worker or employer on the subject of employment rights because some problem, dispute or issue has arisen, the lawyer does not look to see what the provenance of the law is; the lawyer looks at what UK law has to say about the problem. Let me give the Committee a hypothetical example—I am sure I have done many of these cases in the past. A worker falls off scaffolding at height and is injured. They want to sue. They sue on the basis, of course, of clear, homespun English common law—the failure to provide a safe place of work and a safe system of work, part of UK common law since Wilsons and Clyde Coal v English in 1938—but they also rely on the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the Work at Height Regulations which originated from EU directives in what was known as “the six pack” in 1992.

Let me give the Committee one other example from my own experience. Six years ago, I represented the National Union of Mineworkers over the closure of the last deep mine pit in the United Kingdom at Kellingley. The dispute was over the compensation payable to the redundant miners. Of course, they were entitled to their redundancy pay and, indeed, an agreed enhancement. Their redundancy pay derived clearly from UK law. There is no EU input into redundancy payment, which has been part of our law since the Redundancy Payments Act 1965. However, they also claimed because they said—and were ultimately proved right—that there had been inadequate consultation with the union over the closure of that pit and the laying off of all those men. That derives from Section 188 of the Employment Rights Act, the provenance for which is EU law. Is the Minister going to tell us that that protection and that requirement for consultation before collective redundancy—the noble Lord, Lord Fox, referred to P&O Ferries, and that was the law that P&O accepted that it had broken in that case—is going to be repealed? Or perhaps it is simply to be a subject on which the Minister will not introduce any protective statutory instrument or further legislation but will simply sit on his hands and it will disappear on 31 December this year.

We are debating Amendment 1 at the moment, but Amendments 2, 17, 21, 23—which the noble Lord, Lord Fox, referred to—and 25, and Amendment 40 in the name of my noble friend Lord Collins, set out a raft of employment laws which those who tabled those amendments seek to protect. They are just a few of the employment laws which have a provenance from the EU. It might be recalled that, at Second Reading, I identified a whole raft of health and safety laws which fall into that category. There are others which have not so far been identified, one of which is, of course, the Section 188 to which I referred to a moment ago.

Those seeking to preserve specific rights, as the amendments this morning are seeking to do, are faced with a dilemma of trying to identify what rights need protection when faced with a blanket sunset clause which will remove the whole lot unless protection is given. As my noble friend Lady O’Grady and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, have intimated, it should be incumbent on the Government to identify what is proposed to be repealed and what the justification for it might be. I call on the Minister to do that in his speech and tell us what the Government are going to get rid of. The fact is that those who voted for Brexit, for good reasons, no doubt, surely did not vote for the removal of all these rights in the workplace or the uncertainty about whether those rights would subsist after 31 December 2023.

There is one final matter before I sit down, which is a point alluded to by my noble friend Lady O’Grady. The trade and co-operation agreement that was ratified by the United Kingdom in 2021 includes two articles, Article 387 and Article 399, which require the United Kingdom to preserve certain rights guaranteed by international treaties which it has ratified and to implement them. There is an enforcement mechanism if the United Kingdom does not do those things. I tell the Committee that the European Parliament and the European TUC are already urging the European Commission to initiate that enforcement mechanism by reason of this very Bill that we are discussing today. It does not add to the reputation of the United Kingdom that we should already be breaching a treaty that we ratified only two years ago.