Debates between Lord Krebs and Lord Carlile of Berriew during the 2017-2019 Parliament

Wed 28th Feb 2018
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Debate between Lord Krebs and Lord Carlile of Berriew
Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, when I was a young barrister doing cases in strange places such as Caernarfon Crown Court, nobody at that time thought of bringing charges under the Justices of the Peace Act 1361, but some time in the 1970s somebody had that bright idea. The Justices of the Peace Act 1361 applies to certain public order issues. Suddenly, charges of affray started appearing before those courts, and nobody questioned the efficacy or applicability of the Justices of the Peace Act 1361 in that context. Noble Lords may well be thinking: it is bedtime and that is a good story, but what on earth has it got to do with this amendment? I venture that it has something to do with it.

I am not a member of the Constitution Committee but I admire everything it has done and I support what my noble friend Lord Pannick has just said. This is about the clarity of the law. Normally, if we in this Parliament enact a law and nobody questions its efficacy for years—such as, for example, the Justices of the Peace Act 1361—we tend to pat ourselves on the back and say, “For once we’ve got something right. It’s not troubling their Lordships and Ladyships in the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, so we can be well satisfied with our legislative process”. What seems to be being said here, at least to the ordinary reader, I suspect, is that if a particular provision, though it exists, has not been tested and questioned before a court, in some circumstances it should not apply. But if it has given rise to difficulty and has had to be tested in court, that is a kind of imprimatur of quality. I just do not understand it. I hope that your Lordships, at least at 9.20 pm, tend not to understand it either.

Whichever version of this particular law we have—which has, I say to the Minister, the commendable virtue of retaining existing rights and allowing us to presume that we can act on our retained rights—please may we have clarity on what is intended and, if necessary, an explanation of why the Government wish to disapply certain rights that exist?

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 28, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lady Brown of Cambridge. This amendment, which seeks to replace Clause 4 with a new clause, includes the same intent as that of Amendment 26 but goes further. It aims to preserve, more comprehensively than the existing Clause 4, the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures derived from EU law and incorporated into domestic law via the European Communities Act 1972. Where such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and so on are incorrectly or incompletely transferred, it also imposes a duty to make regulations to remedy the deficiency.

The Government’s ambition for the withdrawal Bill is for the same rules and laws to apply after the UK leaves the EU as they did before. This ambition has been repeatedly stated, including in the Government’s great repeal Bill White Paper. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, reminded us in Monday’s debate,

“the Prime Minister said that this Bill is not an occasion for changing the law, it is an occasion for ensuring that on exit day we have a workable, certain, continuing system of law”.—[Official Report, 26/2/18; col. 550.]

However, the Bill as drafted fails to retain all EU law and therefore does not meet this objective which has been set by the Prime Minister.

I am approaching this from the point of view of environmental protection. The problem is not exclusive to environmental law, but because 80% of environmental law stems from the EU it is particularly important in this area. I would expect the Government to welcome this amendment as it will help to support their ambitions for protecting the natural environment. As the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reaffirmed recently:

“It is this Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it”.

It is widely accepted that, over recent decades, the state of our environment has improved in many respects, due primarily to the introduction of EU laws. Amendment 28 will therefore support the Government’s ambition to go further in protecting and enhancing our environment by addressing four problems with the current Clause 4.

The first problem is the one identified by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in his Amendment 26. As the Explanatory Notes explicitly state,

“any directly effective provisions of directives that have not been recognised”—

that is, by a court—

“prior to exit day … will not be converted”.

I do not propose to say more about this because the noble Lord has explained, in better terms than I could, the ambiguity created by this clause.

Secondly, the proposed new clause in Amendment 28 imposes a duty on the Government to make regulations that will remedy any cases in which there have in the past been an incorrect or incomplete transfer of EU law. If the Minister considers this to be unnecessary, perhaps we could understand why. The powers to do so are contained in Clause 7(2)(f) but, surely, she would agree that there is a significant difference between a power to do something and a duty to use that power.

The third point that the amendment aims to rectify is that a number of provisions of directives are relied on directly, rather than via transposition into UK legislation. The status of these provisions is unclear as the Bill stands. An example is the Government’s current environmental reporting obligations. Can the Minister confirm that these will be put on a domestic footing as a result of the Bill?

The fourth point, on which I do not intend to elaborate because it is dealt with in Amendment 58, is that the current Clause 4 does not include the preambles to EU directives, which are important in interpreting existing EU legislation. I shall not say more about that today.

Without the amendment to Clause 4, which I am proposing with others, the Bill puts at risk EU law provisions such as the requirements to review and report on the adequacy and implementation of laws such as those in the marine strategy framework directive, the air quality directive and the habitats directive. It does not place obligations on the Government to report and send information to the European Commission —not surprisingly—which is then able to aggregate this information and use it in its consideration of the appropriateness of laws and their implementation.

Without Amendment 28, the Bill omits the aim and purpose of directives, such as the habitats directive specifying that its aim is to contribute towards biodiversity conservation, while some obligations incumbent on member states that have not been transposed into UK law will be lost—for example, the water framework directive’s requirement that water-pricing policies provide adequate incentives for users to use water efficiently. Without Amendment 28, the requirement for regional co-operation in transboundary environmental matters—for example, in article 6 of the marine strategy framework directive—would be lost.

As I have already mentioned, these problems will not only be felt in the field of environmental law. There are other examples of where directives have been incompletely or incorrectly transposed, and which would therefore be lost because of the current drafting of the Bill. These include article 15 of the e-commerce directive and article 4 of the employment equality directive, to name but two.

Finally, I would like to give one practical example of why Amendment 28 is needed. Article 6 of the energy efficiency directive requires member states to ensure that central governments,

“purchase only products, services and buildings with high energy-efficiency performance, insofar as that is consistent with cost-effectiveness, economical feasibility, wider sustainability, technical suitability, as well as sufficient competition”.

This obligation is currently implemented through a procurement policy note. The legal basis for such guidance is article 6 of the directive. No statutory obligation exists in UK domestic law. This means that the article 6 obligation on the Government to purchase highly energy-efficient products, services and buildings will disappear from our law after exit day. The procurement policy note has no legislative status and could be revoked by a Government at any time, without any form of parliamentary scrutiny.

I hope that the Minister will address my points in her response and, if she is not prepared to accept Amendment 28, will explain what additional steps the Government intend to take to ensure that the environment is protected by law and that this Bill ensures that we will have a workable, certain and continuing system of law on exit day.