Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Energy Security & Net Zero
Nobody is disputing the need to examine these things. I am not even disputing the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, about the timescale. We should move as speedily as we can, but it should not be on the basis of areas where a sunset clause will cause things to fall off, or of simply saying, “We need to speed up Parliament, and therefore to consider whether to accept or reject a Minister’s decision on important policy areas”. That is not what this Parliament is about. I hope the Minister will consider the views not only of the Committee but of the Delegated Powers Committee: is Clause 10 seriously necessary? It undermines exactly what I suspect people who voted for Brexit really wanted: for this Parliament to decide the UK’s laws.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con)
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My Lords, we have ensured that the Bill contains robust scrutiny mechanisms that will enable the appropriate scrutiny of any amendments or repeals of retained EU law made by the powers included in the Bill. The debate touched on two different things: we need to differentiate between the effects of Clause 10 and the application of pre-existing delegated powers contained in other Acts of Parliament, and the delegated powers included in the Bill.

Because of the points that have been made, I want just to touch on the scrutiny mechanisms. These include a sifting procedure that will apply to regulations proposed to be made under the power to restate and the powers to revoke or replace. This will afford additional scrutiny to the use of the power while retaining the flexibility of using the negative procedure where there are good reasons for doing so. We recognise the significant role Parliament has played in scrutinising instruments subject to sifting procedures previously and are committed to ensuring the appropriate scrutiny under the delegated powers in the Bill. Indeed, the Leader of the House of Commons has written to the chair of the European Statutory Instruments Committee proposing that the committee take on the role of sifting committee in the House of Commons to determine where the negative procedure may apply.

I wanted to give that background because there are these two different aspects to the debate, but I turn first to the clause stand part motion introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Clause 10 must stand part of the Bill because it provides the answers to two fundamental questions. First, is it right that technical regulations should be treated as equivalent to an Act of Parliament? Secondly, are this Government happy with the risk of these regulations sitting stagnant on the statute book? The answer to both, as we have argued all along, is no. Clause 10 modifies powers in other statutes to allow them to be used to amend or retain direct EU legislation and directly effective rights. Over 50% of retained EU law currently identified on the REUL dashboard—I agree with the noble Baroness on that figure—is retained direct EU legislation. It is comprised mainly of EU regulations in which the UK Parliament had no real say. This legislation often does not reflect the UK’s priorities or objectives—to drive growth, for example. We are currently forced to treat some retained direct EU legislation as equivalent to an Act of Parliament when amending it. This is not appropriate; it does not fit with this Government’s vision of REUL reform following the Brexit process, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, referred.

I understand the concerns of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, but we do need to think of the opportunity that Brexit affords, while maintaining necessary protections. In doing so, we must ensure that parliamentary time is used appropriately. Furthermore, relying purely on primary legislation to amend these technical regulations to meet the UK’s needs would take decades. It is of critical importance that we ensure that these mostly technical regulations do not remain static and can be updated, amended and reformed in response to events and new knowledge, using appropriate delegated powers. Without the measures in Clause 10, thousands of regulations will become stagnant and will be unable to stay up to date, react to new information or implement new international agreements without requiring an Act of Parliament.

I will now move on to a set of amendments relating to the delegated powers, starting with amendments—

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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Before the Minister leaves the question of allowing Clause 10 to stand part, I am surprised at her disagreement with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee—a dangerously radical body containing wild revolutionaries such as the noble Lords, Lord Janvrin and Lord Goodlad, and the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. Their view was clearly set out in their report: that Clause 10

“effects a significant transfer of power to Ministers”,

contrary to what was set out in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The Act said it would be for Parliament to decide changes in primary legislation, rather than for Ministers to do so in secondary legislation.

I understand the argument the Minister is making, but it is not one likely to find much support across the House. We think we have a role in deciding what should be on the statute book; it is not simply for the Executive. I can see the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton—yet another dangerous radical—that it will take time so there will be, in a sense, continuing uncertainty. This is why I support an extension of the sunset deadlines—although that is not a sufficient cure, I think it is a necessary one for the Bill. But the noble Lord has to recognise that there is huge uncertainty now for economic operators across the country: they do not know which laws are to be amended, which are to be retained and which are to be extinguished. Once we know, perhaps it would be sensible to discuss how long it will take to make the necessary changes.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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Surely the thing that concerns businesses is how legislation is going to be amended, not whether it is or not.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I thank the noble Lords for their interventions. I did say that I understood the concerns of the Committee. I was trying to explain that, in this particular case, we need to go forward with the arrangements we have because of the situation the EU law of 2018 has left us in and the need to tidy up the statute book, which, otherwise, would take decades to do.

Amendments 115 and 116 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering would insert a requirement to consult any interested persons or relevant devolved Governments before any secondary retained EU law could be revoked or replaced. Amendment 115 would require that no regulations may be made under Clause 15(2) unless Ministers comply with a set of conditions, including a requirement to consult any interested persons in relevant devolved Governments before any REUL can be revoked or replaced. Amendment 116 would insert the same consultation requirements regarding regulations made under Clause 15(3). These amendments would hinder the efficient removal of outdated and unnecessary burdens and regulations and their replacement with regulations that are more fit for purpose.

Furthermore, we have sought, as I have explained, to ensure that the Bill contains robust scrutiny mechanisms, including for the powers to revoke or replace. In particular, the sifting procedure will apply to those regulations proposed to be made under the negative procedure. The sifting procedure largely corresponds with the procedure under the EUWA and the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020. In both cases, sifting has been effectively used to ensure proportionate parliamentary scrutiny of legislation regarding EU exit. We are scheduled to debate the sifting procedure in more detail on Wednesday, and obviously I look forward to that debate. In addition, it is our expectation that the departments concerned will follow standard procedures regarding consultation and engagement with the devolved Governments during policy development, so I do not consider adding a requirement to consult on the face of the Bill to be appropriate or necessary.

Amendment 128, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, would create a new clause introducing additional restrictions on the use of powers under Clauses 15 and 16. Among the proposed extensive conditions is a requirement that Ministers provide a report outlining an assessment of the potential impact of proposed new regulations. This would include the difference between current and proposed new regulations for protections for consumers, workers, businesses, the environment, animal welfare, any changes to the regulatory burden, and whether the UK’s international commitments to the trade and co-operation agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol continue to be met. Such conditions are unnecessary. The Bill has been drafted to ensure that legislation made under these powers is subject to scrutiny procedures that are proportionate to the scope of the powers. It is our expectation that departments will follow the standard procedures for consultation and impact assessment where it is undertaken. Adding these conditions would significantly delay the process of REUL reform, impact departments’ delivery plans and could prevent departments maximising the use of the powers in Clauses 15 and 16.

Before coming to the sunsets, I turn to Amendment 129, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which seeks to add a clause to the Bill introducing additional restrictions for food standards legislation. It is only right to have powers in the Bill which will help put the UK statute book on a sustainable footing. The powers will facilitate the much-needed review and reform of outdated retained EU law that not is fit for the UK, and they will ensure that we can capitalise on the benefits of Brexit. As I have said, the powers to amend are not intended to undermine the UK’s already high food standards. I say again that this Government are committed to promoting robust food standards nationally and internationally, so that we can continue to protect consumer interests, facilitate trade and ensure that consumers can have confidence in the food they buy. I also value the work of the food standards agencies, for all the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has outlined, but that is not a reason to amend this general Bill.

To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the Hansard that he referred to reflects the position that retained EU law that needs to be kept will be preserved. The FSA is saying publicly that retained EU law on food standards should be preserved. It is for the relevant department—the Department of Health—and the devolved nations to decide whether retained EU law in their area should be preserved. Therefore, I humbly suggest that the two statements are not in conflict.

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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To wind back a few sentences, the Minister quite rightly said that the Department of Health would be responsible ultimately for changes in the law that affect food safety and standards. However, my amendment was not questioning that issue; it was questioning where the Department of Health is going to get its expert advice from. I did not hear the Minister say that the Department of Health would not propose any changes unless the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland had agreed that they would not compromise consumer protections in relation to food, whether it is to do with safety information or health. Could she therefore confirm whether that is the Government’s intention?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I am sure the Ministers responsible at the Department of Health and in the devolved nations will consult the Food Standards Agency. In the work I do with the Department of Health which involves food, the Food Standards Agency is an incredibly important part of the decision-making process.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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The noble Baroness should not therefore have a problem in saying that they will consult it. Can we not have a commitment from the Government that they will do so? That is all.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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As I said, I am sure that the Health Ministers will consult the Food Standards Agency. The food standards agencies have been set up for this purpose. If you are making changes to legislation, of course there will be consultation. I am not the Health Minister, so I cannot make a declaration of that kind, but I have already said that I will pass on to the Health Minister the discussions we are having on food safety.

Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
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I think the question my noble friend was asking was what the Government’s position is—that is the answer we need.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I have given my answer. I have been very clear about the importance we attach to food safety from both a government point of view and my own historic point of view, which I hope adds some credibility. I do not think I have a lot further to say, apart from the fact that officials are working with the Food Standards Agency day and night on these areas.

Amendment 132, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, proposes that a Minister of the Crown should publish a report 30 days before the powers can be exercised. The report would have to include a list of criteria which relevant national authorities would need to take into account when exercising the powers under Clauses 12 to 17 of the Bill. The delegated powers within the Bill will enable Ministers to make active decisions regarding their respective retained EU law. It is only right to have such powers; they will help to put the UK statute book on a sustainable footing within a reasonable timeframe and facilitate the much-needed review and reform of retained EU law to ensure that we can capitalise on the benefits of UK autonomy. Furthermore, the Bill has been drafted to ensure that legislation made under the delegated powers is subject to scrutiny procedures proportionate to the scope of the powers. I therefore do not consider that publishing a report setting out criteria which Ministers must take into account when using the powers within the Bill is necessary given the scrutiny already provided for.

I turn now to Amendment 141 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead; I am sorry he is not here today. The amendment would impose a requirement to seek consent from a Scottish or Welsh Minister where a Minister of the Crown intends to exercise a power in the Bill separately on legislation which is in an area of Scottish or Welsh devolved competence. First, I assure your Lordships that the Government are committed to respecting the devolution settlements and the Sewel convention. Indeed, none of the provisions within the Bill, including the powers, affects the devolution settlements, nor is the Bill intended to restrict the competence of either the devolved legislatures or the devolved Governments.

I recognise that the extension power is not conferred on the devolved Governments. However, we are keen to ensure that the provisions within the Bill, including the powers, work for all parts of the UK. That is why the majority of the powers will be conferred concurrently on the devolved Governments: to enable them to make active decisions regarding their retained EU law. As such, introducing a requirement for a Minister of the Crown to seek legislative consent when using the powers on legislation within areas of devolved legislative competence is not necessary.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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We keep being told that there is not going to be consultation or legislative consent, and that the Food Standards Agency would of course be mindful of what the Government have to say. We are being asked to take all these things on trust, but it is not as though the Government have an impeccable record on these things. Can the noble Baroness not appreciate that what the Committee is trying to get at is to understand how these determinations will come about? We are looking for some sort of signal from the Government that there will be openness and a willingness to involve, and an attempt to do more than what is absolutely strictly necessary within the letter of the Bill that she is referring to. Were she to endeavour to give us that reassurance or explain how that would be done, she might find a little—not a lot—more sympathy for the position she is taking.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I understand. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for trying to help to move things forward; we are certainly keen to do that. Clearly, this enabling Bill is going through Parliament ahead of the some of the work that has been going on around the dashboard and the individual governmental plans, which is perhaps a pity. I think my noble friend the Minister said that he would try to make more information available as that became possible. Indeed, we have given an extra couple of days for debates in Committee. Progress is being made all the time in departments on their plans. We have these two processes—

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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As the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, said, the Minister has turned down every single amendment in this group, whether it is for more consultation or for the Food Standards Agency to have a proper say. Every time, she has simply said, “That would take decades”. I am not sure whether an impact assessment has been done to work out what lies behind that phrase; I suspect it is just a throwaway phrase which is meant to cast dust in our eyes. However, it is not terribly convincing, because not a single amendment on the Marshalled List suggests putting the cut-off date beyond 2028, as the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, suggest. Nobody is suggesting a period of decades. What those of us who support these amendments are suggesting is that the Government should follow the normal procedure, which we have always had in this country before, of consultation and legislation. Could we please not dismiss everything by saying that it would take decades?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I think I said “decades” once. This is of course a bit different from the normal laws that we debate and put through this Parliament, because it is dealing with retained EU law, and we think that there is a need for special arrangements. Equally, there is also a need for your Lordships to understand what our plans are. This is Committee; it is quite conventional at this stage to explain the problems with amendments, which I have obviously been doing.

Picking up on what has just been said, perhaps I should move on to the final issue in this group, which is timing. Amendment 104, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, relates to Clause 12 and seeks to change the date on which the power to restate under Clause 12 is capable of acting on retained EU law from the sunset date—the end of 2023—extending it to 2028. The existing power to restate under Clause 13, which is exercisable up to 2026, provides an adequate opportunity for the reform of retained EU law and assimilated law while providing a deadline to ensure that retained EU law does not languish on our statute book indefinitely.

I turn to Amendment 108A in the name of my noble friend Lady Lawlor. Although she did not speak to it on this occasion, I am glad that one of her early interventions as a Member of this House has been on this important Bill. Her amendment seeks to bring forward the date on which the power to restate assimilated law expires to the end of 2024. This power already puts a protection in place after the sunset by allowing departments to reproduce the effects of retained case law and EU-derived principles of interpretation in relation to specific provisions of restated assimilated law, which sunset at the end of 2023 up to 23 June 2026.

Although I understand where my noble friend is coming from, I believe that it is necessary to make the power to restate assimilated law available for a sufficient window of time following the sunset date to ensure that the Government can mitigate any unintended consequences associated with the sunset in 2023. While we expect the power to be used only in exceptional cases, it would be irresponsible for the Government not to have a protection in place. Bringing forward the expiration date of the power to restate assimilated law to the end of 2024 would provide a limited time window for departments to use this power and could result in provisions not being restated that are necessary to maintain the desired policy effect.

Amendments 122 and 122A are also on timing. Amendment 122 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering would change the date on which the powers to revoke or replace are capable of acting on REUL and post-sunset secondary assimilated law, extending it to 2028. Exercising the powers to revoke or replace will allow the Government to seize our new regulatory autonomy and ensure that REUL can be tailored to meet the UK’s needs in a timely manner. We need to complete that important process.

The powers to revoke or replace are important, cross-cutting enablers. They will allow the Government to overhaul EU laws in secondary legislation across the many different sectors of the economy where, if left, many pieces of REUL risk becoming fixed features of the statute book that are ill suited to the UK. As my noble friend Lord Hamilton said, extending the date to 2028 would also add to uncertainty. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, was right to remind us that some of the public think that the process of EU reform is sluggish, but I think that 2026 gives us ample time.

Lastly, I turn to Amendments 124 and 125 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. In broad terms, they would change the dates that enable the power to act upon assimilated law. I will not go through the detail of why these amendments do not work because I have already explained it quite clearly. The powers to revoke or replace are already capable of acting on assimilated law for an additional two and a half years after the sunset, which is adequate time to complete REUL reform and provide greater legal certainty UK-wide.

I am sorry to have spoken at length but there were a lot of amendments in this group. I hope this has provided noble Lords with some reassurance on the powers in the Bill, their timeframes and the way in which scrutiny will work, as I tried to set out at the beginning of my speech. With this in mind, I ask noble Lords to withdraw or not press their amendments.

Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Henig) (Lab)
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The Question is that Clause 10 stand part of the Bill.