New Clause 1 - “Assimilated law”

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:18 pm on 18th January 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

(1) As regards all times after the end of 2023, the things listed in the left-hand column are to be known by the names in the right-hand column.

Retained EU lawAssimilated law
Retained case lawAssimilated case law
Retained direct EU legislationAssimilated direct legislation
Retained direct minor EU legislationAssimilated direct minor legislation
Retained direct principal EU legislationAssimilated direct principal legislation
Retained domestic case lawAssimilated domestic case law
Retained EU case lawAssimilated EU case law
Retained EU obligationAssimilated obligation

(2) Accordingly, as regards all times at or before the end of 2023, the things listed in the right-hand column continue to be known by the names in the left-hand column.

(3) Schedule (“Assimilated law”: consequential amendments) contains amendments consequential on subsection (1).

(4) A reference in an enactment to a thing in the left-hand column of the table in subsection (1) is to be read, as regards all times after the end of 2023, as a reference to the thing by its name in the right-hand column.

(5) Subsection (4) does not apply to any title of an enactment (including any provision about how an enactment may be cited) or any reference to a title of an enactment.

(6) The provision that may be made by regulations under section 19 (power to make consequential provision) in consequence of subsection (1) of this section includes, in particular—

(a) provision adding entries to the table in subsection (1) for things which relate to the things for which there are entries in the table (and adding definitions for those things to subsection (7));

(b) provision amending an enactment in consequence of the name of a thing being changed by subsection (1) (including by virtue of regulations under section 19).

(7) In this section—

“retained case law”, “retained domestic case law” and “retained EU case law” have the meaning given by section 6(7) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (as it has effect on the day on which this Act is passed);

“retained EU law”, “retained direct EU legislation”, “retained direct minor EU legislation”, “retained direct principal EU legislation” and “retained EU obligation” have the meaning given by Schedule 1 to the Interpretation Act 1978 (as it has effect on the day on which this Act is passed).”—(Ms Ghani.)

This new clause renames “retained EU law” and related bodies or types of law and makes related provision.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Conditions for bringing sections 3, 4 and 5 into force—

“(1) None of sections 3, 4 or 5 may be brought into force unless all the following conditions have been satisfied.

(2) The first condition is that a Minister of the Crown has, after consulting organisations and persons representative of interests substantially affected by, or with expertise in the likely legal effect of, that section on a draft of that report, laid a report before each House of Parliament setting out, with reasons, the Minister’s view as to the likely advantages and disadvantages of bringing that section into force, setting out in particular the effect of that section on:

(a) the rights of and protections for consumers, workers, and businesses, and protections of the environment and animal welfare;

(b) legal certainty, and the clarity and predictability of the law;

(c) the operation of the Trade and Cooperation agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU, and UK exports of goods and services to the European Economic Area; and

(d) the operation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the EU withdrawal agreement.

(3) In relation to section 4, that report must take into account any regulation made or likely to be made by a relevant national authority under section 8(1).

(4) The second condition is that a period of sixty days has passed since that report was laid before Parliament, with no account to be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is adjourned for more than four days.

(5) The third condition is that, after the end of that period, both Houses of Parliament have approved a resolution that that section come into force.

(6) If both Houses of Parliament have approved a resolution that that section should not come into force unless it is amended in a way set out in that resolution, then the Minister may by regulation amend that section accordingly, and that section may not be brought into force until that amendment has been made.”

This new clause requires Ministers to analyse, and to explain their analysis of, the effect of the removal of retained EU law rights, the principle of supremacy of EU law, and of the general principles. It also includes opportunity for Parliamentary approval and timeframes for laying reports before both Houses.

New clause 3—Conditions on the exercise of powers under section 15 and 16—

“(1) The first condition is that the relevant national authority has consulted such organisations as appear to it to be representative of interests substantially affected by its proposals, and any such other persons as it considers appropriate, on a draft of those regulations.

(2) The second condition is that the national authority has, after that consultation has concluded and after considering any representations made to it, laid a draft of the regulations before each House of Parliament (or, as the case may be, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd or Northern Ireland Assembly), together with a report setting out, with reasons, the authority’s view as to the likely advantages and disadvantages of making those regulations, setting out in particular:

(a) a summary of the objectives and effect of those regulations as compared to the instrument that they will revoke, replace or modify;

(b) any difference as between that instrument and the proposed regulations in terms of protections for consumers, workers, businesses, the environment, or animal welfare;

(c) any benefits which are expected to flow from the revocation or replacement of that instrument;

(d) the consultation undertaken as required by subsection (2);

(e) any representations received as a result of that consultation;

(f) the reason why the national authority considers that it is appropriate to make those regulations, having considered those representations;

(g) the reasons why the national authority considers that section 15(5) (overall reduction in burdens) does not preclude the making of the regulations, explaining what burdens are reduced or increased as a result of the making of the regulations;

(h) the compatibility of the revocation, modification, or replacement of that instrument with obligations in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU, and the likely effect on UK exports of goods or services to the European Economic Area; and

(i) the likely effect of the revocation, modification, or replacement of that instrument on the operation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the EU withdrawal agreement.

(3) The third condition is that a period of sixty days has passed since those draft regulations or that report were laid as required by subsection (2) with no account to be taken of any time during which Parliament (or, as the case may be, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or Northern Ireland Assembly) is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House or that body is adjourned for more than four days, and where they were laid before Parliament, paragraph 8(11)(a) of Schedule 3 shall apply in determining the commencement of that period.

(4) The fourth condition is that the national authority has considered any representations made during the period provided for by subsection (3) and, in particular, any resolution or report of, or of any committee of, either House of Parliament (or, as the case may be of the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or Northern Ireland Assembly) with regard to the proposals, and has published its reasons for accepting or rejecting any such representations, resolution, or report.”

This new clause requires the relevant national authorities to consult with key stakeholders on proposed regulations revoking or replacing REUL, and to show Parliament their assessment of the impact of the changes

New clause 5—Powers to revoke or replace: application to environmental law—

“(1) This section applies in respect of provision which may be made by a relevant national authority under section 15 where the provision is in respect of secondary retained EU law which is environmental law.

(2) No provision may be made unless the relevant national authority considers that the provision will contribute to a significant improvement in environmental protection.

(3) The relevant national authority must—

(a) have regard to international environmental protection legislation and international best practice on environmental protection,

(b) comply with the requirements and objectives of the Aarhus, Bonn, Bern, Ramsar, OSPAR and Biodiversity Conventions, and

(c) comply with environmental principles and the policy statement on environmental principles.

(4) The relevant national authority must—

(a) seek advice from persons who are independent of it and have relevant expertise,

(b) seek advice from, as appropriate, the Office for Environmental Protection, Environmental Standards Scotland, a devolved environmental governance body or other person exercising similar functions, and

(c) publish a report setting out—

(i) how the provision will contribute to a significant improvement in environmental protection, and

(ii) how the authority has taken into account the advice from the persons referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b).

(5) In this section—

Aarhus Convention” means The UNECE Convention on access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters (Aarhus, 25 June 1998);

Bern Convention” means the Council of Europe's Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern, 1979) [ratified / signed];

Biodiversity Convention” means the UN Convention on Biodiversity (Rio, 1992);

Bonn Convention” means The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn, 1979);

“devolved environmental governance body” has the same meaning as in section 47 of the Environment Act 2021;

“environmental law” has the same meaning as in section 46 of the Environment Act 2021, but without the exception set out in section 46(3) and (4) (devolved legislative provision);

“environmental protection” has the same meaning as in section 45 of the Environment Act 2021;

“environmental principles” and “policy statement on environmental principles” have the same meanings as in section 17 of the Environment Act 2021;

“Environmental Standards Scotland” has the same meaning as in section 19 of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021;

“international environmental protection legislation” has the same meaning as in section 21 of the Environment Act 2021;

“Office for Environmental Protection” has the same meaning as in section 22 of the Environment Act 2021;

OSPAR Convention” means The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (1992);

RAMSAR Convention” means The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, 1971).”

This new clause creates additional conditions to be satisfied before the powers set out in clause 15 can be exercised where the subject matter of their exercise concerns environmental law.

Amendment 33, page 1, line 2, leave out clause 1.

This amendment deletes the sunset clause.

Amendment 18, page 1, line 4, leave out “2023” and insert “2026”.

This amendment moves the sunset of legislation from 2023 to 2026.

Amendment 28, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to an instrument, or a provision of an instrument, that—

(a) would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament if it were contained in an Act of the Scottish Parliament, or

(b) could be made in subordinate legislation by the Scottish Ministers, the First Minister or the Lord Advocate acting alone.”

This amendment restricts the automatic revocation or “sunsetting” of EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation under Clause 1 of the Bill so that it does not apply to legislation that is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

Amendment 37, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to an instrument, or a provision of an instrument, that—

(a) would be within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly if it were contained in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly, or

(b) could be made in subordinate legislation by Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive.”

This amendment restricts the automatic revocation or “sunsetting” of EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation under Clause 1 of the Bill so that it does not apply to legislation that is within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly.

Amendment 38, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to an instrument, or a provision of an instrument, that—

(a) would be within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru if it were contained in an Act of Senedd Cymru, or

(b) could be made in subordinate legislation by the Welsh Ministers acting alone.”

This amendment restricts the automatic revocation or “sunsetting” of EU-derived subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation under Clause 1 of the Bill so that it does not apply to legislation that is within the legislative competence of the Senedd.

Amendment 19, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply to the following instruments—

(a) Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999,

(b) Children and Young Person Working Time Regulations 1933,

(c) Posted Workers (Enforcement of Employment Rights) Regulations 2020,

(d) Part Time Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000,

(e) Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002,

(f) Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006,

(g) Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004,

(h) Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations 2005,

(i) Working Time Regulations 1998,

(j) Agency Workers Regulations 2010,

(k) Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999,

(l) Trade Secrets (Enforcement etc) Regulations 2018 and

(m) The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996.”

This amendment would exclude certain regulations which provide for workers’ protections from the sunset in subsection (1).

Amendment 21, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply to the following instruments—

(a) The REACH Regulation and the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008,

(b) The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017,

(c) The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017,

(d) The Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994,

(e) The Water Resources (Control of Pollution) (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) (England) Regulations 2010,

(f) The Bathing Waters Regulations 2013,

(g) Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017,

(h) The Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018 (also known as the Farming Rules for Water),

(i) The Marine Strategy Regulations 2010,

(j) The Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007,

(k) The Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017,

(l) The Plant Protection Products Regulations 1107/2009,

(m) The Sustainable Use Directive Regulation (EC) 396/2005,

(n) The National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2018,

(o) Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order (2019),

(p) Directive 2010/63 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes,

(q) Directive 1999/74 laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens,

(r) Regulation 139/2013 laying down animal health conditions for imports of certain birds into the Union and the quarantine conditions thereof, and

(s) The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006.”

This amendment would exclude certain legislation which provides for environmental protections from the sunset in subsection (1).

Amendment 24, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(2A) Subsection (1) does not apply to the following instruments—

(a) The Civil Aviation (Denied Boarding, Compensation and Assistance) Regulations 2005,

(b) Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations,

(c) The Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012,

(d) The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016,

(e) The Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011,

(f) The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012,

(g) The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015,

(h) The Cocoa and Chocolate Products (England) Regulations 2003,

(i) Commission Regulation (EU) No 748/2012 of 3 August 2012,

(j) The Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001, and

(k) The Bauer [C-168/18] and Hampshire [C-17/17] judgements.”

This amendment would exclude certain retained EU law which provides for consumer protections from the sunset in subsection (1).

Amendment 36, page 1, line 12, at end insert—

“(3A) The Secretary of State must, no later than three months before the date specified in subsection (1), publish a list of all legislation being revoked under this section (the “revocation list”) and lay a copy before Parliament.

(3B) With each update of the revocation list up to the date specified in subsection (1), the Secretary of State must lay an updated copy of the revocation list before Parliament.

(3C) Any legislation not included in the revocation list, as updated, on the date specified in subsection (1) is not revoked.

(3D) At any time before the date specified in subsection (1), the House of Commons may by resolution amend the revocation list by adding or removing instruments specified in the resolution, and the Secretary of State must accordingly lay the updated revocation list before Parliament.

(3E) At any time before the date specified in subsection (1), the House of Lords may by resolution propose amendment of the revocation list by adding or removing instruments specified in the resolution.

(3F) If the House of Commons does not pass a motion disagreeing with a resolution of the House of Lords under subsection (3E) within ten days of the date of that resolution, the Secretary of State must amend the revocation list in accordance with the resolution of the House of Lords and lay the updated version before Parliament.

(3G) If the Secretary of State does not amend the revocation list when required to do so by paragraphs (3D) or (3F) before the date specified in paragraph (1), the revocation list will be deemed to have been amended as specified in the resolution of the relevant House of Parliament, and the relevant legislation will be treated as though the change has been made.

(3H) Any legislation to which section (3C) applies is not to be considered as either retained EU law or assimilated law.”

This amendment would require the Government to publish an exhaustive list of every piece of legislation being revoked under the Sunset Clause, and allow for Parliamentary oversight of this process so that it is the House of Commons which has the ultimate say on which legislation is affected.

Amendment 29, in clause 2, page 2, line 12, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) has effect in relation to provision which is within the competence of the Scottish Ministers as if, after “A Minister of the Crown”, there were inserted “or the Scottish Ministers”.

(1B) A provision is within the devolved competence of the Scottish Ministers for the purposes of this section if—

(a) it would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament if it were contained in an Act of that Parliament, or

(b) it is provision which could be made in other subordinate legislation by the Scottish Ministers, the First Minister or the Lord Advocate acting alone.”

This amendment clarifies what provisions would be devolved and therefore under the competence of Scottish Ministers for decision, rather than a Secretary of State.

Amendment 39, page 2, line 12, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) has effect in relation to provision which is within the competence of the Welsh Ministers as if, after “A Minister of the Crown”, there were inserted “or the Welsh Ministers”.

(1B) A provision is within the devolved competence of the Welsh Ministers for the purposes of this section if—

(a) it would be within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru if it were contained in an Act of Senedd Cymru, or

(b) it is provision which could be made in other subordinate legislation by the Welsh Ministers acting alone.”

This amendment clarifies what provisions would be devolved and therefore under the competence of Welsh Ministers for decision, rather than a Secretary of State.

Government amendments 1, 3 and 6.

Amendment 26, in clause 7, page 4, line 36, at end insert—

“(d) the undesirability of disturbing settled understandings of the law, on the basis of which individuals and businesses may have made decisions of importance to them;

(e) the importance of legal certainty, clarity and predictability; and

(f) the principle that significant changes in the law should be made by Parliament (or, as the case may be, the relevant devolved legislature).”

This amendment adds further conditions for higher courts to regard when deciding to diverge from retained EU case law.

Government amendments 7 to 17 and 2.

Amendment 20, in clause 15, page 17, line 28, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to the following instruments—

(a) Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999,

(b) Children and Young Person Working Time Regulations 1933,

(c) Posted Workers (Enforcement of Employment Rights) Regulations 2020,

(d) Part Time Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000,

(e) Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002,

(f) Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006,

(g) Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004,

(h) Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations 2005,

(i) Working Time Regulations 1998,

(j) Agency Workers Regulations 2010,

(k) Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999,

(l) Trade Secrets (Enforcement etc) Regulations 2018 and

(m) The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996.”

This amendment would exclude certain legislation which provides for workers’ protections from the power to revoke without replacement in subsection (1).

Amendment 22, page 17, line 28, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to the following instruments—

(a) The REACH Regulation and the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008,

(b) The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017,

(c) The Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017,

(d) The Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994,

(e) The Water Resources (Control of Pollution) (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) (England) Regulations 2010,

(f) The Bathing Waters Regulations 2013,

(g) Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017,

(h) The Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018 (also known as the Farming Rules for Water),

(i) The Marine Strategy Regulations 2010,

(j) The Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007,

(k) The Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017,

(l) The Plant Protection Products Regulations 1107/2009,

(m) The Sustainable Use Directive Regulation (EC) 396/2005,

(n) The National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2018,

(o) Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order (2019)

(p) Directive 2010/63 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes,

(q) Directive 1999/74 laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens,

(r) Regulation 139/2013 laying down animal health conditions for imports of certain birds into the Union and the quarantine conditions thereof, and

(s) The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006.”

This amendment would exclude certain legislation which provides for environmental protections from the power to revoke without replacement in subsection (1).

Amendment 25, page 17, line 28, at end insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply to the following instruments—

(a) The Civil Aviation (Denied Boarding, Compensation and Assistance) Regulations 2005,

(b) Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations,

(c) The Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012,

(d) The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016,

(e) The Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011,

(f) The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012,

(g) The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015,

(h) The Cocoa and Chocolate Products (England) Regulations 2003,

(i) Commission Regulation (EU) No 748/2012 of 3 August 2012,

(j) The Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001, and

(k) The Bauer [C-168/18] and Hampshire [C-17/17] judgements.”

This amendment would exclude certain legislation which provides for consumer protections from the power to revoke without replacement in subsection (1).

Amendment 34, page 18, line 12, at end insert—

“(4A) No regulations may be made under this section unless the conditions set out in section [Conditions on the exercise of powers under section 15 and 16] have been complied with.”

This amendment ensures that the powers to revoke or replace would be subject to restrictions as laid out in NC3.

Amendment 23, page 18, line 13, leave out subsections (5) and (6).

This amendment will remove the restriction on the replacement of EU law that states it must not add to the regulatory burden.

Amendment 35, in clause 16, page 19, line 9, at end insert—

“(3) No regulations may be made under this section unless the conditions set out in section [Conditions on the exercise of powers under section 15 and 16] have been complied with.”

This amendment would ensure that the power to update would be subject to the restrictions laid out in NC3.

Amendment 30, in clause 20, page 20, line 38, at end insert—

“(1A) A Minister of the Crown may not include in regulations under this Act any provision which is within the devolved competence of any devolved authority as defined in paragraph 2 of Schedule 2.”

This amendment adds protection for devolved competence, denying any Secretary of State the chance to revoke REUL within devolved competence.

Government amendments 4 and 5.

Government new schedule 1—“Assimilated law”: consequential amendments.

Amendment 31, in schedule 3, page 34, line 38, at end insert—

“Consent of Scottish Ministers

8A Before making regulations to which this Part of this Schedule applies, a Minister of the Crown must obtain the consent of the Scottish Ministers.”

This amendment modifies the powers which are conferred on Ministers of the Crown in devolved areas so that they may only be exercised with the consent of the Scottish Ministers.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

It is a pleasure to be here, and I thank all Members who have tabled new amendments and new clauses and who will speak in the debate. I also thank the members of the Public Bill Committee for their work.

I will address the Government new clauses and amendments first, but I will say more about them in my closing speech when other Members have had a chance to contribute. I will also address some of the concerns that have been raised, and some of the misinformation about the Bill.

The Government new clauses and amendments are minor and technical. They cover four areas. The first is updating the definition of “assimilated law” and how it should be interpreted, and, in the case law provisions, ensuring that the High Court of Justiciary is covered in all instances. I thank the Scottish Government for their engagement: there has been engagement between our officials and those in the Scottish Government, and with the Advocate General. Our new clauses also clarify the fact that the use of extension power also applies to amendments to retained EU law made between the extension regulations and the sunset, and clarify the application of clause 14 to codification as well as restatement. These are technical drafting measures, and I ask the House to support them.

Let me now explain why the Bill is crucial for the UK. My explanation will directly cover many of the new clauses and amendments. The Bill will end the special status of retained EU law on the UK statute book by the end of 2023. It constitutes a process. Considerable work has been done with officials across Whitehall and with the devolved authorities; that work has been proportionate, and has been taking place for over 18 months. I cannot stress enough the importance of achieving the 2023 deadline. Retained EU law was never intended to sit on the statute book indefinitely. It is constitutionally undesirable, as some domestic laws, including Acts of Parliament, currently remain subordinate to some retained EU law. The continued existence on our statute book of the principle of supremacy of EU law is just not right, as we are a sovereign nation with a sovereign Parliament.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

We all accept that the status of EU law must change and that it will have to be reassimilated into domestic law in due course. No one argues with that. Will the Minister not reflect that it is constitutionally unacceptable to create what the Law Society—which might know a little more about the law than politicians and civil servants—described as a “devastating impact” on legal certainty and business confidence? To do so by means of Henry VIII powers so wide that all scrutiny is, in effect, removed from this House is not taking backing control but doing the reverse of what the Government seek to do.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I always respect my hon. Friend’s opinion, but he is fundamentally mistaken. We have undertaken a considerable amount of consultation with our courts and have worked with them consistently. It is absolutely right that we deliver Brexit by ensuring that laws made here are sovereign over EU laws.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

My hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill is fundamentally wrong. The Bill is providing legal certainty. Rather than having a flow of EU law interpreted according to EU principle, from now on we will have a single set of laws within this country. That must be certainty rather than otherwise.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Having a single set of laws across the UK will provide far more certainty.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Before I take any more interventions, I want to address the point made by my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill about the Henry VIII powers. That is a misrepresentation of what is happening. Each Department will review and then amend, assimilate or revoke EU law. Each Department’s Secretary of State will be responsible for the decisions they take. All the laws are on the dashboard, which will be updated once again, and we will be codifying the retained EU law. In the absence of the application of supremacy, restating a rule in primary legislation could lead to the same policy effect as the rule itself currently has. The Bill just sets out a process to allow each Department to take a decision. Why would we not want to review the EU law that is out there and assess what needs to be assimilated? If we can amend and update it, why would we not do that?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

Notwithstanding the charmingly innocent faith in lawyers of my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, the key thing about our decision to leave the European Union is that sovereignty lies in this place and with the people to whom we are accountable. The point about this measure is that it will allow exactly that sovereignty to be exacted in practice with regard to retained EU law.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Absolutely. When decisions are taken either to amend or to revoke, the usual channels will be followed in Parliament. Committees will be put in place and decisions will be reviewed the Leaders of both Houses. Decisions can be taken openly and transparently. We also have the dashboard, which will be updated and already has thousands of EU laws on it.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

The Minister is right that the whole point of Brexit was to take control of our own laws. She is also right that there needs to be a single set of laws across the United Kingdom. But the Bill makes it clear that we will not have a single set of laws across the United Kingdom, because a wide range of laws in Northern Ireland are exempt from the provisions of the Bill. Furthermore, in future when EU law changes and applies in Northern Ireland, the gap between the laws in the rest of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland will get ever wider. Does she accept that unless the protocol is dealt with, there is a real danger that Northern Ireland will be treated differently and be constitutionally separated from the United Kingdom?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. As it is sensitive, he must allow me a moment to ensure that my response is accurate. The UK Government are committed to ensuring 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. The Bill will not alter the rights of EU nations that are protected, or eligible to be protected, by the relevant provisions in the Northern Ireland protocol. The Bill contains provisions that, when exercised appropriately, will ensure the continued implementation of our international obligations, including the Northern Ireland protocol.

It is our preference to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol issue through talks. The Government are engaging in constructive dialogue with the EU to find solutions to these problems. I must put on record that officials have been working with officials in Northern Ireland for the last 18 months. We know how important and sensitive this issue is.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I will just make a little progress before I take more interventions.

I cannot stress enough the importance of achieving the deadline. The retained EU law was never intended to sit on the statute books indefinitely. On 31 January last year the Government announced plans to bring forward the Bill, which is the culmination of the Government’s work to untangle ourselves from decades of EU membership. It will permit the creation of a more agile, innovative and UK-specific regulatory approach, benefiting people and businesses across the UK.

It is a priority of the Government that the United Kingdom will be the best place to start and grow a business. The Bill contains powers that will allow us to make good on that promise. It will allow outdated and often undemocratic retained EU law to be amended, repealed or replaced more quickly and easily than before. It will remove burdens on business and create a more agile and sustainable legislative framework to boost economic growth.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember being on the Back Benches and sitting in statutory instrument Committees in which we had no ability whatsoever to change the legislation going through, because it was driven by the European Union. This is about taking back control by giving democratic authority to this place. Furthermore, on things such as maternity leave, minimum wage, annual leave, product safety and international regulations we are already doing better than the EU minimum standards. This Government will promise to keep those standards and, in many cases, increase them.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There has been a lot of misinformation about the environment. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has committed to maintain or enhance standards. He is right that we had very little say over positions taken in Brussels, but now, in the Bill, those decisions are taken by the devolved authorities. That will remain devolved and they will have a say, so why would they want to give away that power?

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

The Minister spoke of taking back control, but the harsh reality is that the Government are taking back control from the Scottish Parliament. Yesterday we heard about the UK Government enacting section 35 to strike out a Bill of the Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Act 2016 contains the Sewel convention, which requires the UK Government to obtain the consent of the Scottish Parliament when they are acting in devolved matters. The Scottish Government are not giving their consent. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Why should the Scottish Government not have the right to veto this Bill, which tramples over devolution and our laws in a way that we do not consent to?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. Could I gently say to the Minister that in order to facilitate Hansard and hon. Members seeking to hear, it would be helpful if she could address the microphone rather than the Back Benches?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My apologies, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The question is, why would Ian Blackford not take the power that the Scottish Government will be given through this Bill when it comes to devolved matters, to look at the EU laws and see whether they want to maintain them or enhance them for their own people? Why would they want to reject the power that they have been offered through this Bill? We remain fully committed to the Sewel convention. It is an essential element of the devolution settlement. The UK Government continue to seek legislative consent for Bills that interact with devolution. The right hon. Member’s argument does not make any sense. My worry is that Scottish Government do not want the powers because then they will have to exercise them. I know it is a little bit of work, but it is worth doing.

This Bill provides the opportunity to improve the competitiveness of the UK economy while maintaining high standards. It will ensure that the Government can more easily amend, revoke or replace retained EU law, so that the Government can create legislation that better suits the UK. This programme of reform must be done. The people of the UK did not vote for Brexit with the expectation that nearly a decade later, politicians in Westminster would continually rehash old and settled arguments, as those on the Opposition Benches so love to do. We must push on and seize the opportunities that Brexit provides. That will ensure that our economy is dynamic and agile and can support advances in technology and science.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

On agility, the Minister will know that the majority of the thousands of rules that need to be changed are in the environmental area. Does she think it is a good idea that civil servants are completely distracted and focused on the changes to these rules when we have one in four people in food poverty, 63,000 people dying a year due to poor air quality, sewage pouring into our seas and crabs dying off the north-east coast? Would it not be better if the civil servants and the Government tackled those problems rather than going down a rabbit hole and inventing worse standards than the EU, such as trying to get to World Health Organisation air quality standards by 2040, which the EU is trying to get to by 2030?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I think many people coming into the debate today think that this is the start of something, but this process has been in place for more than 18 months, and DEFRA has committed to maintain or enhance standards. The constant misinformation given out over what is happening on the environment is simply incorrect. DEFRA has already taken decisive action to reform areas of retained EU law and it already has flagship legislation on our statute book, including the Environment Act 2021, the Fisheries Act 2020 and the Agriculture Act 2020, all on powers that the SNP wants to give back to Brussels. The Environment Act strengthens our environmental protections while respecting our international obligations. It is simply incorrect to suggest that the Government will be weakening any of those protections. The Environment Act has set new legally binding targets, including to halt and reverse nature’s decline. Those targets, with oversight from the Office for Environmental Protection, will ensure that any reform to retained EU law delivers positive environmental outcomes. DEFRA will also conduct proportionate analysis of the expected impacts, so it is absolutely incorrect to misrepresent this Bill.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Sir James Duddridge talked about statutory instrument Committees. I think all of us have sat on statutory instrument Committees, where we know that it is a question of like it or lump it when it comes to what is being proposed. Under this Bill, Ministers will have powers over key issues that our constituents care about. The Minister talks about the dashboard and admits that it still needs to be updated. As a matter of good democratic practice, will she give us, here and now, today, the exact number of laws covered by this Bill, so Members of this House can at least have some sense of the task that they are voting for? If she cannot tell us how many laws are covered, it is definitely not clear to us how any of us can influence them.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The hon. Member was very astute in Committee, and we spent many hours together discussing this. The dashboard is public. It has had more than 100,000 views to date. I was on it only last night. It has thousands of laws on it, and it will be updated again this month. There is a process within each Department, which is why a unit has been established to work with each Department across Whitehall. Every EU law that is identified will be put on the dashboard. So it is public, it is accessible, and all the information is out there.

I must just respond to another point that the hon. Member raised, once again, about scrutiny in this place, because it is being misrepresented—[Interruption.] Unfortunately, it is. The Bill will follow the usual channels for when laws are being either amended or revoked. The Leaders of the two Houses will meet and the business managers will take a decision. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the House of Lords has already said that it is comfortable with the way the Bill will progress and the laws will be scrutinised, and the European Statutory Instruments Committee has said that it is comfortable with the way the laws will be scrutinised and assessed. So there is a process in place, as there was for a no-deal Brexit. The crunch is: if you do not like Brexit and if you did not like the way the Brexit vote that took place, you are not going to like any elements of this Bill.

Photo of Saqib Bhatti Saqib Bhatti Conservative, Meriden

Just before that intervention, the Minister was talking about the environment. Is it not the case that Members on this side of the House have delivered the Environment Act, that we are perfectly capable of making our own laws and delivering for the British people and that we do not need guidance from the European Union, unlike those on the Opposition Benches?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Absolutely. We on this side of the House have done a tremendous amount of work that did not require us to be directed by bureaucrats in Brussels. This gives me a great opportunity to point out all the fantastic work that we have achieved.

First of all, I must just say again that we will be maintaining and enhancing environmental standards. I want to touch on a list of things that we have achieved, especially on animal welfare, which has been a huge priority for Government Members. We have had the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 and the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. Since 2010, we have had new regulations on minimum standards for meat and chickens, banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens, made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England, made microchipping mandatory for dogs in 2015, modernised our licensing system for a range of activities such as dog breeding and pet sales, protected service animals via Finn’s law, banned the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens via Lucy’s law, passed the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 and led work to implement humane trapping standards. Our Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will further the rights of animals outside the EU, including the banning of export of live animals for slaughter and fattening. It is remarkable how much we can achieve when we are left to our own devices.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I will just make a little bit of progress.

As I have said, the sunset clause is necessary and is the quickest and most effective way to pursue retained EU law reform. It is only right to set the sunset and the revocation of inherited EU laws as the default position. It ensures that we are proactively choosing to preserve EU laws only when they are in the best interests of the UK. It ensures that outdated and unneeded laws are quickly and easily repealed. It will also give the Government a clear timeline in which to finish the most important tasks. Some retained EU laws are legally inoperable, and removing them from the statute book easily is good democratic governance. Requiring the Government to undergo complex and unnecessary parliamentary processes to remove retained EU law that is no longer necessary or operable, and can more easily be removed, is not good governance.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

Surely parliamentary sovereignty is giving Members of Parliament control, not the Executive or bureaucrats in Whitehall.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 1:45 pm, 18th January 2023

The reality is that Ministers take decisions all the time, and there is a process in place where laws are amended or updated if there is a significant policy change. The same policy process will be in place. If the hon. Member is not comfortable with Conservative Ministers taking those decisions or with the SI process that is already in place, fundamentally he is just not comfortable with the decisions we are taking because we are taking these rules from Europe and placing them here on our UK statute book. That is a different argument altogether.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

I want to react to what I think I heard the Minister saying when she suggested that those of us who did not support Brexit in the referendum would not support this Bill. That is not the case. As someone who did not vote for Brexit but who absolutely recognises that democratic choice and respects the referendum, I do support the premise of the Bill. We need to look at the EU law, although there are elements of the Bill we could improve on to give some certainty, and I hope that I will be called to speak later.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I would not want to misrepresent my right hon. Friend’s position. The point I was making was that Opposition Members who have complained about the Bill have a particular position that has been long held because of the outcome of the vote that took place.

We believe it is right that the public should know how much legislation there is derived from the EU, and know about the progress the Government are making. For that reason, we have published a public dashboard—perhaps colleagues would like to go on to the site for a moment—containing a list of UK Government retained EU law. The site will also document the Government’s progress on reforming retained EU law and will be updated regularly to reflect plans and actions taken. It will be updated again this month. I was slightly inaccurate earlier: there have in fact been 148,727 visitors to that site. It is not as if people are in the dark. There are many opportunities to be aware of what we are doing.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I am grateful to the Minister for finally giving way. She is suggesting that those of us who oppose the Bill are opposing it for some kind of ideological reason. I draw her attention to the words of the chair of the Office for Environmental Protection, who herself said:

“Worryingly, the Bill does not offer any safety net, there is no requirement to maintain existing levels of environmental protection”.

Not only that, there is actually a requirement not to go on and make the legislation stronger. That is written into the Bill.

On the issue of certainty, I do not know how the Minister can stand there and pretend that this is about certainty when businesses have no idea which laws will be in or out and when she does not know how many laws are on her dashboard.

On democracy, when we were in the European Union we at least had Members of the European Parliament who had a say over these things. When the laws come back here, we have no say over them at all; it is all with Ministers. Is that what she means when she says this is supposed to be a good Bill that is full of opportunities from Brexit?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The hon. Lady has got the meme for her Facebook page. Unfortunately, she wholly misrepresents what the Bill is doing. Environmental standards will be maintained or enhanced. At the moment, the laws that come down from Brussels on the environment and land cover everything from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. This Bill is a great opportunity to maintain, to enhance and to review what more we can do to make things better for our environment across the UK. We already have flagship legislation in place: the Environment Act 2021, the Fisheries Act 2020 and the Agriculture Act 2020. The Office for Environmental Protection has been fully established to enforce those elevated environmental rules and standards. The water framework directive covers our water. Instead of misrepresenting what the Bill does, why not take the opportunity to ensure that we enhance provision for what we are not maintaining?

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

Listening to the Opposition, we might think that the EU is the land of milk and honey when it comes to the environment. This is the same EU that put fossil fuels and gas in last year’s green taxonomy. Getting out of the EU allows us to have our own taxonomies and to make far greener efforts than naming gas as a green technology, which it is not.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We can make sure that we have a better focus on renewables, and we can take the decisions that work best for our communities. Fundamentally, we are maintaining and enhancing. We must not forget that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been able to introduce substantial law on water, animals and land. I have covered the dashboard, and I assume colleagues will now be pouncing on it.

Departments have been actively working on their retained EU law reform plans for well over 18 months to ensure that appropriate action is taken before the sunset date. Additional work to lift obsolete laws will inevitably be slow, but that work will continue. We cannot allow the reform of retained EU law to remain merely a possibility. The sunset provision guarantees that retained EU law will not become an ageing relic dragging down the UK. It incentivises the genuine review and reform of retained EU law in a way that works best for the UK. What reforms are desirable will differ from policy area to policy area.

As my hon. Friend Dean Russell, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said on Second Reading, the environment is one of the Government’s top priorities. We will ensure that environmental law works for the UK and improves our environmental outcomes. As I said, we will be maintaining and enhancing. The Bill does not change the Environment Act, and we remain committed to delivering our legally binding target to halt nature’s decline by 2030.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Paymaster General

Many constituents have been in touch with me with their concerns about habitat protection, maternity leave protection and other issues. The National Archives says that 1,300 additional pieces of legislation are not necessarily in scope. Can the Minister give more clarity on how many pieces of legislation this Bill will cover?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We are working across Departments to cover laws that will either be assimilated, amended or revoked. We are finding that a number of those laws are obsolete, and the fact we are still identifying them is good. We are putting them on the dashboard as soon as we can, and we will update the dashboard again this month. It is right that we conduct this exercise to know where we are and to ensure that we refer to UK law where we assimilate, and that we amend it to improve the situation for our communities and businesses. If the laws are not operable in the UK, we can revoke them.

The hon. Lady mentioned maternity rights, which is one of the unfortunate misinformation campaigns on this Bill. I struggle with the fact that colleagues are sharing misinformation, as people who may be vulnerable are made more vulnerable by such misinformation. The UK has one of the best workers’ rights records in the world, and our high standards were never dependent on our membership of the EU.

Indeed, the UK provides far stronger protections for workers than are required by EU law. For example, UK workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of annual leave compared with the EU requirement of four weeks—we are doing better here. We provide a year of maternity leave, with the option to convert it to shared parental leave. The EU requirement for maternity leave is just 14 weeks—we are doing better here. The right to flexible working for all employees was introduced in the UK in the early 2000s, whereas the EU agreed its rules only recently and offers the right only to parents and carers—we are doing better here. The UK introduced two weeks’ paid paternity leave back in 2003. Who can remember then? The EU legislated for this only recently—once again, we are doing better here. I ask Members please not to hold up Brussels as a bastion of virtue, as that is most definitely not the case.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I will make a little progress.

Significant reform will be needed in other areas, which is why the powers in the Bill are necessary. The people of the UK expect and deserve positive regulatory reform to boost the economy. Via this Bill, we will deliver reform across more than 300 policy areas. We cannot be beholden to a body of law that grows more obsolete by the day just because some in this House see the EU as the fount of all wisdom.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Conservative, Aberconwy

My hon. Friend is setting out a very powerful case. On the one hand, she is making the case that in Britain we have many laws that are superior and offer greater benefits and protections to residents, and on the other hand, she is making the self-evident point that we should unshackle ourselves from laws that will become increasingly historical, some of which were assimilated into British statute without scrutiny.

Will the devolved Administrations be able to preserve retained EU law where it relates to devolved areas of competence?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the law is already devolved, the devolved Administrations have the ability to assimilate, amend or revoke, which is why some of the interventions from Opposition Members are slightly absurd. Why would they not want the opportunity to have a review? If the devolved Administrations want to assimilate the law, they can. If they want to amend it, they can. If they wish to revoke it, they have that choice. Why would the devolved Administrations not want to embrace the powers this Bill will give them?

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

The Minister talks about the devolved Administrations hanging on to their powers. Will she ensure that the dashboard on retained EU law is updated to identify which legislation is reserved and which is devolved, as well as how legislation in Wales might be affected?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Yes. The hon. Gentleman may have missed the earlier part of my speech. Government officials have been working with devolved Administration officials for more than 18 months, and that work will continue. When we discover an EU law, we put it on the dashboard. Of course, there are conversations with officials in the devolved authorities, and it is important that we continue to work closely with them.

I was going to say more about the UK’s tremendous work on the environment, because I saw some dreadful, inappropriate coverage in the press, including nonsense about marine habitats. I have just had some information from DEFRA about its fantastic work in Montreal on marine. We have done more work on environmental standards and status outside the EU, including in protected areas such Dogger Bank, to enhance protection by 2030. We are also integrating our ocean and coastal mapping.

Unfortunately, colleagues who are uncomfortable with the Bill have also peddled misinformation about our water bodies and water standards. There is an assumption that the target is being moved, which is absolutely incorrect. Targets are not being moved. It is incorrect to say that the target for the good state of England’s water bodies has been changed—it is still 2027, as outlined in the water framework directive. Hopefully that will cancel out any other misinformation on this stuff being shared on social media sites.

Reform will be needed in other significant areas, which is why the powers in the Bill are necessary. It has been suggested that the Bill will somehow be a bonfire of workers’ rights. We are proud of the UK’s excellent record on labour standards, and we have one of the best workers’ rights records in the world. Our high standards were never dependent on our membership of the EU. Indeed, the UK provides far stronger protections for workers than are required by EU law. I have already spoken about maternity rights, but we can also look at maternity cover, holiday pay and other rights for employees.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West 2:00 pm, 18th January 2023

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice because the Environment Secretary testified to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that the water framework directive was subject to change, on the advice of the Environment Agency, but now we are being told that it will not be. So who should we believe?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that that is not a matter for the Chair. The Minister is responsible for her own words and statements, and she must take responsibility for them. While I am on my feet, let me say that a significant number of Members wish to participate in this debate and a limited time is available. It is clear that the Minister does not intend to give way, having done so several times, and we should progress with the debate.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. To ensure that the devolved Governments are also able to fully seize the benefits of Brexit, we are providing them with the tools to reform the retained EU law that is within their own devolved competence. That will give the devolved Governments greater flexibility to decide how they should regulate those areas currently governed by retained EU law. The majority of the powers in the Bill are conferred on the devolved Governments, which will enable them to take more active decisions about their citizens and their businesses. The devolved Governments will also have the ability to decide which retained EU law they wish to preserve and assimilate, and which they wish to let sunset within their devolved competences.

Since we left the EU, more powers have already been passed on to devolved Administrations, in areas such as farming, fishing and the environment. Under the Bill, these powers can continue to be there. The question is: why would they not enjoy that power to make sure that decisions are taken that best fit their communities? We have carefully considered how this Bill will have an impact on each of the four great nations and we recognise that it is of paramount importance that we continue to work together as one on important issues, including the environment.

As has been mentioned, we accept that some retained EU law in scope of the sunset is required to continue to operate our international obligations, including the trade and co-operation agreement, the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol. Therefore, I am happy to make a commitment here today that the Government will, as a priority, take the action required to ensure that the necessary legislation is in place to uphold the UK’s international obligations. In the near future, we will set out where retained EU law is required. Obviously, as well as sharing things on the dashboard, we are working closely with officials in Northern Ireland.

One amendment relates to carving out devolved nations. This Bill must and should apply to all nations of the UK. The territorial scope of the Bill is UK-wide and it is therefore constitutionally appropriate that the sunset applies across all four sovereign nations of the UK. One of the Bill’s primary objectives is to end retained EU law as a legal category across the UK. Providing a carve-out for legislation that is within a devolved competence would severely impact the coherence of the UK statute book and legal certainty for our public and businesses.

I also commend my Cabinet colleagues who are already making gallant efforts to establish ambitious reform plans that will help to drive growth. We are already in the process of removing outdated retained EU law in financial services, through the Financial Services and Markets Bill, and we have already repealed other outdated rules, enabling us to capitalise on tax freedoms. For example, the Government have ended the tampon tax by removing VAT on women’s sanitary products. We have also been able to embrace other opportunities, such as on vaccines, freeports, gene editing, free trade agreements, EU budget payments, immigration control, fishing and even foreign policy on Ukraine. Outside the EU’s unwritten rules on solidarity in foreign policy, we were the first to send arms to defend Ukraine, ignoring German bans on such equipment. That is unlikely to have happened when we were in the EU.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I will finish this point and then I will take some interventions. We also now have AUKUS, where we have signed a nuclear submarine deal with Australia, in opposition to France; we have new agricultural support schemes; and—this is one of my favourites—no MEPs means more democracy here.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

The Minister is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that stagnant EU laws are hindering economic growth in the UK and that this Bill will enable us to protect and enhance our important fishing industry, particularly our famous cockle industry in Leigh-on-Sea?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

It will indeed help the cockle industry. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that it will be maintaining and enhancing when it comes to the environment, including our waters. My hon. Friend is absolutely right; this is just an enabling Bill. It is a process to enable Departments to review EU law to see what we can do to ensure that regulation best suits us here in the UK and that we are nimble for the sectors we want to promote. Some of the sectors we want to work fast and hard in are incredibly progressive and modern, and we cannot have law that is made for a much larger group of nations overseeing us here in the UK.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

Is that not precisely the point: any Department, at any time, that identifies areas of retained EU law that it thinks need to be reformed can bring forward primary legislation—that is the point of parliamentary sovereignty—so that it can be properly scrutinised in this place? The Minister does not need the powers in this Bill. This House already has those powers—I thought that that was supposed to be the point of parliamentary sovereignty.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman fundamentally misunderstands the Bill. Many items of law will be assimilated. The idea that we will debate every single one on the Floor of the House is slightly absurd. The idea that we will be debating laws that are now obsolete is absurd. We will use the same process as we did for the no-deal Brexit; the usual programme of work will take place.

The powers in the Bill will allow us to overhaul regulation where it is not fit for purpose and move us away from the EU body of law. However, once powers have been used to replace the retained EU law or assimilated law with ordinary domestic legislation, they cannot be used in respect of that legislation again. This is a far cry from the Executive power grab of which we have been accused.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

I chair the European Statutory Instruments Committee, which has been mentioned in this House already. We provide the sifting process, ensuring that there is parliamentary oversight as we review Brexit legislation. Does the Minister agree that comments that there is no parliamentary oversight are plain wrong and that attacks from the Labour party, when it does not even take its Committee places, are entirely—[Interruption.] Does she agree that those attacks are extremely hollow?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

They are not just hollow, but simply inaccurate. My hon. Friend has mentioned his European Statutory Instruments Committee, but we also have the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee; the usual channels, which are managed by our business managers; and Leaders of the House in both Houses. So it is not as though there is not ample opportunity to consult.

Once again, let me say that I know people are amused by the dashboard, but it is there and people who are interested can log on, and it will indeed be updated. Without this Bill, legislation that flowed on to the statute book directly from the EU into 300 different policy areas would, in many cases, have to be replaced via primary legislation. That would take decades to amend and this would mean a marked reduction in our ability to regulate in an adequate and timely manner. Without the powers in the Bill, the UK will remain at a competitive disadvantage. It would be economically irresponsible to leave this body of law unchanged, as the Opposition would wish us to do. As I have set out today, this Bill is of vital importance to the future of the UK. As I am sure colleagues will recognise, the reform of retained EU law must be completed without delay. I look forward to the remainder of the debate.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I am grateful for the opportunity to rise to speak in support of the amendments that appear in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Our amendments, even if they are all accepted, cannot completely cure this fundamentally defective Bill, but we will see where we go with that. Let me add my appreciation, as the Minister did, to those on the Committee for their efforts in scrutinising this Bill and to the Clerks for assisting us in doing that.

First, turning to amendment 18, I have yet to hear any rational justification for the deadline of 31 December 2023 for the jettisoning of all EU regulations. We are told that it is an imperative that we free ourselves of the shackles of these regulations by that date and that we must hurry along and free ourselves of the 2,400 or 3,800 regulations—or however many it turns out to be—that are holding us back.

I understand the importance of having a target to work to, but the date has been plucked out of thin air, seemingly at random, and we should not accept it unless a compelling and rational argument is put forward, especially, as I shall go on to explain, as it carries far greater risks than benefits. We were told by the Minister at the Committee stage that, in essence, the cliff edge is being used as some sort of management tool to ensure that civil servants remain focused and can deliver the work necessary to clear the statute books of all this legislation. What a sad state of affairs it is that the only way that the Government think they can get officials to function properly is to legislate for them to do so. Imagine if we got ourselves into a position where every time the Government wanted the civil service to work to a deadline we had to put it in a Bill. It is an explanation that is as threadbare as the impact assessment that accompanies the Bill.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

As we have heard, the vast majority of policy, from use of harmful pesticides to air quality, that will be impacted by the changes brought through this Bill is with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Does the shadow Minister share my concern that, even if the timeline were extended, that is a lot of work for one Department and its officials to make sure they are getting right so quickly?

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I will go on to explain why that deadline is inappropriate and, indeed, impractical.

The Government are using the Bill as a motivational tool. That message has not got through to DEFRA, which, as we know, is considered to be the Department with the most regulations, although, of course, until we see a definitive list, we cannot know that for sure. At the moment, according to the Secretary of State, there are probably about 1,100 regulations in DEFRA that are subject to the sunset. I will not get into whether the word “about” is good enough in this context, but the number of civil servants that we have been told are working on this in that Department is three. It is no good this Bill being used as a way of focusing Departments’ minds if they do not have the resources to do the job properly in the first place.

This is a serious issue. The House of Lords Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee even complained about a lack of engagement from that Department after not receiving a response from it to five separate letters. We know from a written ministerial answer that the Department itself does not know how much the exercise will cost or how many staff it will need. If the deadline is meant to focus attention, it has not succeeded in doing so yet.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

I am listening carefully to the hon. Member’s speech, especially about the timeline. My question is this: when does he want this to end. My constituents in Rother Valley voted in 2016 to leave the EU—lock, stock—not to wait. Even now, I would want to bring the deadline forward, because we should have left fully years ago. When do the Opposition and those who want to stifle our leaving want us to leave—2024, 2025, 2026 or never? I want to leave fully and utterly now.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

If people are going to intervene, they should read the Bill and the amendments, because they would see our suggestion for a deadline. Of course, as everyone else in this Chamber seems to know, we have already left the EU, so this is not about leaving the EU, but about the remaining laws.

The Regulatory Policy Committee has said that setting a deadline is not enough and that a stronger argument is needed for choosing that particular date, and we agree. What is far more convincing than the arbitrary date that we are presented with are the warnings that we have received that there is not sufficient capacity in the civil service for a genuinely effective appraisal of the regulations that the Bill seeks to remove in the timescale allowed. The case for the cliff edge is incredibly weak. The arguments for removing it and putting it on a more realistic footing are much stronger.

The potential for things to be missed is clear. If worse comes to worst and some vital regulation ceases to be law by accident and nobody notices until it is too late, our constituents will rightly ask us, “What on earth were you doing? What were you thinking of?” No wonder the impact assessment on the Bill is silent on the issue of the sunset date.

The Regulatory Policy Committee has made it clear that it believes that the analysis of that sunset date is inadequate. This is a deadline in search of a headline. Presumably, that headline will be, “Free at last”. I would suggest that a more apposite headline might be. “The sun has set on your employment rights, your consumer rights and your environmental protections.” Indeed, the sun has set on parliamentary democracy.

Overall, the Regulatory Policy Committee puts a red rating on the impact assessment of the Bill as not fit for purpose, yet here we are, ploughing on as if it will be all right on the night.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that our first legislation on consumer rights was in 1893, some time before the European Union, and that the Act giving paid holidays was 1938, again before the European Union. We have never needed the European Union for worker and consumer rights.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I am sure that those were the glory years—the right hon. Member’s favourite period of time. This is about protecting the rights that we have, and this Bill allows those rights to fall by default if no action is taken. That is why we are so concerned about the Bill.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 2:15 pm, 18th January 2023

I think everybody agrees that, as we have left the European Union, we need to look at the foundation of the laws that we have in this country. One challenge of this legislation is that, because we do not know precisely what laws are covered, we do not know the laws that we need to look at. Does my hon. Friend agree that people are concerned not because the law says “Europe” on it, but because it is about things such as maternity rights and employment rights? [Interruption.] The Minister is chuntering from a sedentary position. She needs to talk to her colleagues who, when we have asked about these explicit regulations and whether they are going to retain, replace or revoke them, have said that they do not know. They do know on other legislation. Does he agree that, if Ministers have made up their minds on some things but not others, they should be honest with the British public that they are asking us to give them the power to make that decision and take it away from this place? That is not taking back control.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I am grateful for that intervention. That is exactly the problem here. If Ministers decide to remove laws, there will be no opportunity for us to challenge it, which is why we are concerned. The Minister told us in Committee that the sunset date was chosen because it is the quickest and most efficient way to enact retained EU law without taking up additional parliamentary time—so the Government are doing us all a favour by giving us less work to do.

In this context I refer to the written evidence of the Bar Council, which raised the alarm when it said:

“The setting of an arbitrary, and in all the circumstances, impractical sunset date, with the consequent and entirely unnecessary risk of the disappearance of rules of critical importance to businesses, consumers, employees and the environment (some of which, due to their sheer numbers, may only be missed once lost) without adequate consideration or any consultation, and conferring an entirely unfettered and unscrutinised discretion to Ministers to disapply or delay the sunset provision or not;
as well as the attendant risk of rushed replacement legislation”.

That sums up exactly why we should be voting against the Bill.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle

When it comes to workers’ rights or environmental protections, does the shadow Minister suspect, as I do, that this is a Government determined to throw people’s rights on to the Brexit bonfire? If this is the future of the United Kingdom, is it any wonder that more and more people in the north of Ireland are looking forward to being part of a progressive new and united Ireland?

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

That probably takes us slightly away from the thrust of the Bill. But what is this Government’s record on employment rights? They doubled the time to be able to qualify to claim unfair dismissal, taking millions of people out of being able to claim that right. They slashed the consultation periods for people on redundancy. They introduced employment tribunal fees. Their record on employment protection is not a good one. There is a whole back catalogue of Ministers and Cabinet Ministers saying why they want to get rid of these burdensome employment rights. We are right to be worried about where this is all heading.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The hon. Member is being generous and making a powerful case. Does he share my concern that, for all the rhetoric and green wash coming from the Government when they say that this is about keeping high standards, that is completely undermined by a clear clause in the Bill that states that, while Members can replace laws with alternative provisions, those cannot “increase the regulatory burden”. That is clear—it is in black and white. The Bill is an absolute ideological attack on safety and on environmental standards—on the things that keep us safe and our planet safe as well.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

The hon. Member is right. I shall come back to that in a little while.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

In essence, when we took back control through the referendum decision in 2016, it was not to a particular party or even to a particular Government: it was to the British people and their sovereign Parliament. I find it inconceivable and rather disappointing that the hon. Gentleman does not have the confidence that this Parliament will do the right thing in a range of legislative areas.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman does not understand what the Bill does. It hands the power to Ministers, not to Parliament—that is why we are so concerned about it. Taking back control was about this Parliament, not giving power to Ministers.

I turn back to the Bar Council’s clear warnings. It is not some sort of anarchist organisation, it is not part of an anti-growth coalition—it is the Bar Council, for goodness’ sake. Anyone who is concerned about parliamentary scrutiny and accountability and who wants to make this country work should listen carefully to what the Bar Council says and its warnings about why the Bill is inappropriate.

The sunset clause is interrelated with the question of Ministers’ powers and the ability of Parliament to effectively scrutinise changes. I do not want to be faced later this year with having to make a choice between a reduction in the number of days’ paid holiday that people are entitled to and their having no rights at all—and that is a choice that this Bill could force upon us, if we are pushed up to the precipice due to timescale.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

Following the Bar Council’s recommendations and concerns about protections, I put on record that I have been contacted by a large number of constituents who are concerned about the protection of their rights as workers, which they fought hard for, and their rights as consumers. Furthermore, they want hon. Members, particularly the Minister, to know that they are concerned that no scrutiny will take place on this. Does my hon. Friend agree that, based on this Government’s record, there is no way they will maintain the high standards that our constituents expect or ensure that this Bill adequately represents our constituents?

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

My hon. Friend articulates well why her constituents and indeed many people across all sectors of society are concerned about the impact of the Bill. It is not about Parliament taking back control. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has said that the

“abuse of delegated powers is in effect an abuse of Parliament and an abuse of democracy”.

As the former Secretary of State, Mr Rees-Mogg is here, I will quote his response, when he was Leader of the House, to the Committee’s report on the frequent use of skeleton Bills. He said that it did not necessarily provide

“a model example of how Parliament would like to see legislation brought forward.”,

and that he would be encouraging Secretaries of State

“to minimise the use of delegated powers where possible.”

For once, I agree with him; I am sorry he does not agree with himself any more.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

The shadow Minister has implied that the whole country is very concerned about what is going to happen to the current bulk of EU retained law, but he would have heard the Minister saying that all those laws that come under DEFRA—as he knows, that is probably three quarters of the total EU retained law—will be either retained or improved. Now that the Environment Act 2021 brings them under the remit of the Office for Environmental Protection, the watchdog that is there to make sure that they are enhanced, surely he will accept that that gives huge numbers of people and organisations, particularly in the environmental sector, a lot of reassurance.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I think we would be reassured if that was what the Bill did, but the Bill does not give Ministers the power to improve the situation: specifically, as we have heard, it prevents burdens from being increased so—

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

Does my hon. Friend agree that, over the 47 years of our membership, we evolved thousands of rules with the EU, that the choice for Ministers in DEFRA and elsewhere will be whether to assimilate, revoke or amend those rules, and that, if they do not have time to go through them all, the rules will simply fall out of bed? The real risk is that employment, environmental and other rights will simply—perhaps accidentally—disappear. Does he therefore agree that this sunset clause is completely ridiculous?

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

That is a very good point. If the Government cannot even tell us how many rules are covered by this Bill, how can we be confident that things will not be missed? The 2023 date is a deadline in search of a headline; it is not a serious proposition or the action of a responsible Government, and it should be rejected.

The cliff edge is even more absurd when we consider that the Government do not know what rules will be covered by this Bill. I am glad to see Dean Russell in his place; when he was on the Front Bench, he told us, in answer to a written question:

“The dashboard presents an authoritative, not comprehensive, catalogue of REUL.”

He told us in response to a written question on 21 October:

“we anticipate over 100 additional pieces of legislation will be added to the REUL dashboard”.

As we know now, that 100 is probably more like 1,400, so we cannot accuse him of over-promising and under-delivering. He also told us:

“Government officials are currently working to quality assure this data and any amendments to the data will be reflected in an update of the dashboard this Autumn.”

It is 2023 now and, as of midday today, that dashboard had not been updated at all since this Bill was first presented, so it is certainly not comprehensive or authoritative—it is actually not very helpful either. That is undoubtedly not a sound basis on which to be legislating.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

I am sure many of us have received emails from constituents concerned about this process, or rather the lack of process. Thousands of pieces of legislation need to be reviewed and amended. I am sure our constituents would agree that it seems very undemocratic of the Government not to bring that legislation to the Chamber to be scrutinised, as legislation is processed in this place.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

My hon. Friend is right that we must answer to our constituents about what is going to happen with these rules. That is why we have tabled our amendments.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

There is a huge point of principle here, but there are also issues around pragmatic logistics. I can understand some of the frustrations of Conservative Members about delays in implementation since the referendum, but I must remind them that they have been in Government. Privately, I know of no civil servant who has any confidence that the deadline will be met. We now face a strike by 100,000 civil servants. Even the FDA has gone for strike action. The world may have changed since this legislation was first prepared. May I suggest to my Front-Bench colleagues that we assure the Government that there will be an open door for discussion throughout this process when they want to talk about extending the deadline to ensure proper scrutiny of this legislation? I fear that the parliamentary process will break down, poor decisions will be made and we will overburden an administration that already has enough on its plate.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The deadline was pretty risky to start with, but it now looks completely foolish. That is why we will be moving an amendment later to make sure the deadline is put back three years, to give us confidence that things will be done properly.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

If you do not mind, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not going to take any more interventions for a while, because I appreciate a lot of people wish to speak.

Just for a minute, I ask hon. Members to imagine they are a business trying to plan for the next year and having to navigate a dashboard that is not complete, but might be updated at some point. That business is looking at the dashboard just to understand what rules might be changed under the auspices of the Bill, never mind whether they should be changed or whether those changes will affect the business.

If the Government do not even know what the Bill covers, how can they expect anyone looking to invest to do so? That is an absurd way to proceed. No wonder groups as diverse as the TUC and the Institute of Directors oppose this Bill. We do not legislate in this place by website; we legislate by legislation, and the intention of that legislation should be clear.

There is a solution in sight to this rather unsatisfactory state of affairs, in the shape of amendment 36 in the name of my hon. Friend Stella Creasy, which would at least enable us to see what laws Ministers want to revoke and allow Parliament—yes, Parliament—to express a view on whether it wishes to see those laws taken off the statute book, in the true spirit of taking back control. Crucially, the amendment would require Ministers, at least three months before the cliff edge, to set out which laws they intend to revoke.

One would hope that, by September this year, Ministers would have formed a view on which laws they wanted to keep and which they did not. It would be nice if they had done so by then—it would be even nicer if they let Parliament know, and nicer still if they afforded that courtesy to the rest of the country, so that people were able to plan.

We cannot have the Government changing the law on a whim. There must be proper accountability and scrutiny. We cannot have unaccountable Ministers changing the rules without reference to anyone else—that is not what taking back control was supposed to look like. When this Bill was first mooted and Lord Frost was still a Government Minister, he said that the policy intention behind the Bill was

“to amend, replace or repeal all retained EU law that is not right for the UK.”

I think we need something a bit more detailed than a general feeling that something is not right for the UK. This centuries-old Parliament, having taken a historic decision to wrestle back control from those unelected Brussels bureaucrats, finds itself in the ludicrous position of having another unelected person telling us that laws will be changed if they are “not right”. What that phrase gains in brevity it loses in clarity. It can mean absolutely anything, and of course—crucially for this place—it puts all the power in the hands of Ministers. Surely, as a Parliament, we can do better than that; surely we want to hold ourselves to a higher standard when we change legislation. We should not legislate on a whim, and Parliament should not hand powers to Ministers enabling them to do just that. The Regulatory Policy Committee described the Bill’s impact assessment as either “weak” or “very weak” in every aspect, so any Member who is thinking of handing over those powers should, in the light of that warning, think very carefully before doing so.

I know that many of those who support the Bill do not think that any level of parliamentary scrutiny is necessary to revoke EU laws because—they claim—accountability and scrutiny were lacking in the first place when the laws were brought in. I say to those people that two wrongs do not make a right. Is taking back control not about us, in this Parliament, having a fuller say in the legislative process?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee 2:30 pm, 18th January 2023

It is clearly right to have parliamentary scrutiny of these measures and those that will come as a consequence of this legislation, but why has Labour not filled its places on the European Statutory Instruments Committee? If the hon. Gentleman is so keen to see parliamentary scrutiny, why has his party not taken the opportunity that it has?

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I direct the hon. Gentleman to the Whips Office around the corner. He can have a word with them and see what is going on.

I do not accept the characterisation of how these laws were introduced in the first place. As we know, the vast bulk of EU subordinate legislation was adopted by the member states and the European Parliament, of course, both of which had representatives from the United Kingdom—indeed, our MEPs were democratically elected until 2020—so it is simply wrong to say that politicians, stakeholders and policymakers did not have ample opportunity to exert influence on the development of EU policy and secondary legislation.

In fact, there are many examples of where EU legislation was supported and even promoted by the UK Government of the day. One good example is the social chapter, which the Labour party’s 1997 manifesto pledged to introduce. It included rights on parental leave and working hours. Nobody can say that those rules were forced on us without our consent. Conservative Members may not have liked them—that is clear—but there was a clear democratic pathway to their introduction.

Amendment 36 is about Parliament taking back control, but new clause 2, which is on the amendment paper, goes one step further. It would require Ministers to set out their analysis of the impact of the removal of EU laws and the abolition of the application of EU principles to our laws. As our amendment 26 sets out, there needs to be some recognition that tearing up 50 years of legal development overnight might just create a little bit of uncertainty—as, of course, will revoking thousands of laws. New clause 2 would require some thought to be given to what the impact of all that might be and, crucially, would require it to be shared with everyone else.

We therefore think that it ought to be a matter of agreement among everyone who wants to see democracy prosper that the replacement regulations under the Bill should be made by Parliament after proper consultation, public debate and scrutiny, not simply by ministerial decision—or, as the case may be, by non-decision. All we are asking Ministers to do is to publish their work on how these laws will affect our constituents, which they ought to be doing anyway. Or will we have to wait until the end the year to find that some law that has slipped off the books is causing problems with, for example, the trade and co-operation agreement? Is it not better for us to know about that now? Ministers will know what the issues are, so why do they not share that knowledge with the rest of us? New clause 2 would give Parliament sufficient time to express a view on all that, putting power back into the hands of Parliament, which is what I thought all those who campaigned to leave the EU actually wanted to happen.

Likewise, new clause 3 would create a requirement for there to be genuine consultation if the powers under sections 15 and 16 are to be exercised in revoking, replacing or updating a regulation, and, again, for Parliament to be sighted on that consultation and on the Government’s assessment of the proposed changes. I hope that we are not being too revolutionary by wanting accountability and transparency for Ministers’ actions.

While we are on the regulations, why are we tying Ministers’ hands—we have already touched on this—by insisting that anything that replaces them cannot add to the regulatory burden? Why is the language of rights and protections always expressed as a burden? Of course, the whole thrust of the Bill is to reduce the number of EU regulations in our system, which in itself will reduce the regulatory burden, but when Ministers are looking to update or replace these rules, why must we insist that they do not add to the burden? What even counts as a burden? I am saddened that Conservative Members think it a burden to ensure that our workplaces are safe and that people are protected against discrimination, and to protect natural habitats.

If it was thought that reviewing the laws on maternity discrimination, for example, was actually a good opportunity to strengthen protections—possibly along the lines of the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis— this Bill would not allow that. If my hon. Friend’s Bill navigates the private Member’s Bill lottery, it would extend the time period for protection against unfair redundancy to a six-month period after the return to work from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. That is, by the way, something that the Government committed to in 2019, but under this Bill they would not be allowed to implement it because it would increase the burden. I am not sure how that circle will be squared, but it illustrates the point that this Bill could prevent the Government from implementing their own policies. Although most of us on the Opposition side would want that to apply to just about everything this Government introduce, when it is confined to things that might actually benefit our constituents, it is a cause for concern.

That brings us neatly to our amendment 20, which deals with workers’ rights. The regulations that it lists represent, as far as we can identify, all the major employment rights within the ambit of the Bill—rights that people enjoy every day; rights that nobody voted to squash; rights that those on the Labour Benches will do everything in our power to protect. To protect them and remove any scintilla of doubt, we need to take them outside the scope of the Bill.

I heard what the Minister said about there being no plans to remove those rights, which ought to mean that she has no problem with voting for the amendment. After all, if that is what the Government are going to do anyway, what is there to lose?

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip

The hon. Gentleman has already said that the UK’s elected processes already had input into EU laws and protections and rights for workers. I will go one step further and say that this country actually led on a lot of those EU rights and protections for workers, so why does he not believe that this place can enhance those rights and protections, driving them forward for workers in this country?

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

Well, a Government who have been promising an employment Bill for five years and allowed the scandal of 800 P&O workers being dismissed without any notice are not a Government who can really claim to be on the side of workers. If the hon. Gentleman is genuine about supporting workers’ rights, he will support our amendment to ensure that they are protected.

Let us look at some of those rights. The first regulations listed in amendment 20 are the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which ensure, among other things, that an employer must perform a risk assessment for all workers, and that there must also be a specific risk assessment if an employee becomes pregnant. I sincerely hope that the requirement to conduct risk assessments to ensure that people work in a safe environment is not something that the Government consider an unnecessary burden. Do we not think that everyone has a right to work in a safe environment, and that employers should take steps to ensure that?

Those regulations ensure that employees have the important right to be consulted on health and safety, and to receive paid time off to carry out health and safety training and other duties. They also have the right to protection from discrimination or victimisation for carrying out health and safety duties. It is just as important as the requirement for a safe working environment that those who put themselves forward as health and safety representatives can do so without fear of reprisal.

In Committee, the Minister talked about modernising health and safety law, which is not, of course, the same as promising to keep those laws. The term “modernising” can mean any number of things—it certainly does not always mean that a law will be improved or a right increased. As we know, the Bill specifically prevents an increase in the regulatory burden. I know that health and safety is often characterised by Conservative Members as a burden. I do not think that; I think it is absolutely essential. If Members agree with me on that, they should vote with us on amendment 20.

On the part-time employee regulations that are included in the amendment, more than twice as many women than men are in part-time employment. Why would we want to open the door to greater discrimination against women by getting rid of protections for part-time workers?

The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 protect women who might be pregnant or taking maternity leave from workplace discrimination, ensure that they have the right to return to the same job once they return from maternity leave, and, of course, make it unfair to sack someone because they are pregnant. Surely Conservative Members want to ensure that those regulations are protected under the Bill?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

The hon. Member is suggesting that this Government want to get rid of a huge number of workers’ rights. The Minister wrote to all Members this morning making it clear that the Government have no intention of abandoning workers’ rights. Is he suggesting that this Minister is not true to her word?

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

If the Minister is true to her word, she will vote with us and make sure that that is exactly what happens. I refer to the impact assessment, which recognises in three separate paragraphs that the Bill contains a threat to equality, so this is not something we are making up out of our own heads; it is something that is there and to be concerned about.

One set of protections definitely in the sights of those who see employment rights as a burden include the working time regulations, the introduction of the right to paid annual leave, limits on weekly working hours and a legal entitlement to daily and weekly rest breaks. They are some of the greatest achievements of the previous Labour Government, and for Members who are not aware, those regulations originated from concern about workers’ health and safety and the risks associated with working excessively long hours. I am proud that my party tackled that. Do we want to turn the clock back to when people worked 70 or 80 hours a week? We know that some on the Government Benches think there is no moral right to annual leave, but on these Benches we could not disagree more. Also included in our amendment are the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

I am after my hon. Friend’s help on this: was it a figment of my imagination, or did those on the Government Benches drive through a piece of legislation that curtailed the fundamental freedom and right to strike in the past few days? I just seek his help on that.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

Yes, I think that Bill also gives employers the power to sack striking nurses, teachers and doctors. Those are not the actions of a Government who want to protect employment rights.

The amendment includes the 2006 TUPE regulations, which ensure that when one business buys another, there is reasonable certainty about which workers transfer to that new business, so that the purchaser knows which employees it is getting and, critically, workers know that they cannot be dismissed or have their terms and conditions slashed just because they are working for a new employer. Let us make it crystal clear that TUPE will stay. That would ensure protection and certainty for employees, but also certainty for employers. How on earth would someone thinking of buying a business in 2023 know whether to proceed with the purchase if they did not know whether they were obliged to take on the workforce with it? We have a stable, settled, well understood framework of law that helps businesses to operate. Why put that in jeopardy, particularly if, as is claimed, Ministers have no intention of removing it?

To make a general point on employment rights, they are not a burden. They are an essential ingredient of a civilised society. If we want our citizens to play an active role in the country moving forward and in future economic growth, our citizens have to be rewarded fairly and treated fairly. Security and respect at work are the cornerstone of any success we will have as a nation. A secure and happy workforce is a productive workforce. Giving people dignity, certainty and fairness in the workplace is not a burden on businesses; it is what good businesses do, and what good businesses will see the fruits of, if they are allowed to operate on a level playing field.

My constituents will be considerably poorer over the next few years as a result of the economic decisions made by this Government. I do not want them to be poorer in terms of rights, as well. Employment rights ensure that people can participate in the labour market without facing unfair discrimination. They give vulnerable workers more job security and stability of income. They help to encourage a committed workforce and the retention of skilled workers. They are not just about individual dignity and respect in the workplace; they also have social and economic value and are an essential component of a healthy, stable and progressive country.

We need a country where people have the security of knowing that if they do a good job and their employer runs its business well, they will be rewarded properly and be able to stay in work. What we have instead is a culture of disposable commodities and fire and rehire, where loyalty counts for nothing. It is time to draw a line in the sand and say, “No further.” Let us not allow this Bill to open up another line of attack on working people. Let us close it off now once and for all and support amendment 19.

Our amendment 26 also touches on the subject of workers’ rights and what the ripping up of 50 years of case law overnight will mean. As Michael Ford KC said:

“Workers and employers will be back at square one. The whole lengthy and expensive process of appeals will have to be repeated.”

He even said that lawyers would be dismayed at the prospect of having to do that, and that is a view replicated across just about the entire legal profession. As a lawyer myself, I know how difficult it must be for the legal profession to actively argue against anything that might help generate more fees for them, but they do so because they know that the law hates uncertainty and business hates uncertainty.

Nobody wants to end up in lengthy and costly court battles because the settled law of half a century has disappeared in a puff of smoke. Be in no doubt that that will deter investment, because uncertainty deters investment, but it will also create injustices, because it will be those with the deepest pockets who will be able to litigate the longest. If a worker’s circumstances just happen to fall into one of those areas where this artificial vacuum has been created, even if they can afford to fight their case, they could be waiting years for an answer to a question that, until 31 December 2023, everyone knew the answer to.

Amendment 26 attempts to restore some balance and certainty to the law. It does not impinge on the courts’ ability to depart from existing EU law, but it recognises that legal certainty, clarity and predictability are desirable in a healthy and functioning democracy, and that it is Parliament that should determine significant changes to the law.

Amendment 24 relates to a smorgasbord of consumer rights and protections that are derived from the EU, such as the right to compensation when flights are cancelled or delayed or boarding is denied, and giving priority to passengers who have a disability. It also includes laws for similar provisions when a train is delayed or cancelled in the form of the Delay Repay system. I am sure that the Delay Repay websites for Avanti and quite a few other rail operators are getting more visits than the retained EU law dashboard website. There is a problem with the rail system at the moment, but we do not want to see passengers denuded of the right to claim compensation when there are delays.

Other regulations under the amendment include those preventing shops from imposing surcharges that go beyond the coverage of costs; protecting consumers from unsafe electrical equipment by setting standards for the testing of products and the voltages of appliances; and setting minimum safety standards on children’s toys. There are many more, and I will not list every regulation, because I do not claim that the list is authoritative or comprehensive, but it is a list of laws that we believe should be kept alongside the similar amendments on workers’ rights, and I hope we can protect those, too.

Finally, I will speak briefly about how we are standing up for our environmental protections. My hon. Friend Alex Sobel spoke at length in Committee about this Government’s dire approach to environmental laws, and as I have been speaking for some time and other Members want to speak, I will not repeat everything that he said. I certainly do not have the intimate knowledge that he does of white-clawed crayfish, but I will summarise why amendments 21 and 22 and new clause 5 are important for protecting environmental standards.

There is deep concern among many in the environmental movement that in this Government’s deregulatory war, our natural environment, among other areas, could become a casualty. There is a worry that some hold the view that environmental protections are red tape that hold back growth. Our amendments and new clause would provide safeguards against dangerous deregulation that could undermine national and international commitments to environmental protection and improvement.

Amendments 21 and 22 list 19 regulations that would be placed beyond the scope of the sunset in clause 1 and the powers of restatement in clause 15. They cover a vast range of important policy areas about which the public feel passionately, including animal welfare, the protection of wildlife, water quality, the treatment and discharge of sewage, the protection of human health from the impacts of air pollution, the safe use of chemicals and pesticides, the use of animals in scientific testing and the prevention of the spread of animal diseases, such as bird flu. While these regulations are some of the most prominent, they represent just a handful of the 1,100-plus environmental regulations that are key to safeguarding our natural environment. Weakening any of them could cause a vast amount of suffering for our communities, and we want to see that prevented.

We have also tabled new clause 5, which would protect our environmental protections from the sweeping powers that the Bill gives Ministers. It would limit the changes that can be made to environmental protections under clause 15 powers. It outlines a number of conditions that would have to be met for changes to be made to the existing set of laws, including that any change must be considered by a relevant national authority to contribute to a significant improvement in environmental protection, which contrasts with the Bill, which at the moment states that any restatement must not increase the regulatory burden. Perhaps we should listen to experts who say that they are concerned about what the Bill could mean for the environment, or the 21 different environmental groups that have signed a joint letter expressing their concern about the impact of this Bill. Even Chester Zoo in my constituency has written in to express its concerns.

Zoos, business leaders, trade unions, lawyers, environmental groups and even former Conservative MEPs have raised the alarm about the impact of this Bill, because it is a leap into the dark, a kamikaze approach to Government and a power grab. If Government Members support this Bill, they will bear the responsibility for its consequences for many years to come.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. Take out your mental editing pens, ladies and gentlemen, because you are going to have to start cutting your speeches in a big way. We have heard two very lengthy opening statements and a number of lengthy interventions. There are some 30 Members still wishing to take part and the wind-up speeches will start at 5.30 pm. I am going to call the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and the SNP Front-Bench spokesperson, upon both of whom I would urge brevity, after which I shall impose a six-minute time limit on speeches, which may drop further under Mr Evans later on. I call the Chairman of the Select Committee.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Having endured the last 40 minutes, I am bound to say, as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, that although I will be relatively brief there are important matters that need to be discussed. I will raise them and give the House the opportunity to reflect on what I have to say.

This Bill was passed by this House without amendment. There were no amendments on Second Reading or in the Public Bill Committee. I have been Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee for many years, and I have been on this Committee since 1985. I draw the attention of the House to the European Scrutiny Committee report tagged to this debate, published on 21 July last year. As the Minister said, EU retained law was never intended to remain part of our domestic statute book. I am deeply grateful to the Government for today’s round robin letter to all Members and to my right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg for his work on the genesis of this Bill.

We left the European Union with section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 guaranteeing UK sovereignty and democracy, and therefore UK democracy itself. It was the culmination of a process that began with my sovereignty amendment to the Single European Act in 1986, which, at that time, I was not even allowed to debate. In turn, that was followed by the Maastricht treaty and a whole series of treaties, enactments and debates on the Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon treaties.

Incidentally, on the question of maternity pay—the only interesting thing mentioned by Justin Madders—the UK actually has 52 weeks of maternity pay, while the EU has merely eight. On holiday pay, we have six weeks; the EU has four.

The views of the British people, as expressed ultimately in the 2016 referendum, repudiated the idea of our remaining in the EU by democratic vote, and the general election that endorsed that decision, under my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, gave the present Conservative Government a large majority. The democracy that we enjoy is based on our unique and universally envied constitutional arrangements, whereby laws are passed in this House by a simple majority of MPs representing individual constituencies, who derive their authority exclusively from those who voted them into the House of Commons.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

This is the essence of the misunder-standing of the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. The relationship between the Executive and the legislature is such that the Government receive a mandate from the people, but Ministers are answerable to this House. I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman has not grasped that constitutional fundamental.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I am grateful for that intervention, because nothing could have been more obvious than the fact that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and indeed many Opposition Members, simply do not have a clue about how the operations of the European Union function. I will deal with them in a minute, as the hon. Gentleman will find out—I would be interested if he would like to intervene and repudiate what I am about to say.

The Lords themselves—unelected, of course—are subject to the Parliament Acts, which may well prove necessary in relation to this Bill. This is therefore an issue of democracy.

I have watched and participated in the evolution of change in relation to European matters both in this House and outside, in referendum campaigns and the like, for the best part of 38 years. It is essential for those who are not so well acquainted with the manner in which EU law is made, which became more objectionable as the competencies in each of the treaties expanded, to appreciate just how undemocratic and unaccountable the EU system unequivocally is. I have to say that my own party is responsible for many of the problems that were created, but I am delighted to say that the democratic decisions of the British people have now demonstrated the need for this Bill, along with the fact that we have left the European Union.

The democratic deficit is one of the most important reasons—if not the most important reason—why we had to leave and why the Northern Ireland protocol arrangements and the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill are in need of immediate resolution. That Bill, which has passed all its stages in this House, is now becalmed like the Mary Celeste in the House of Lords, with nobody on board, pending agreement from the European Union to change its mandate and resolve this outrageous democratic deficit immediately.

As Con O’Neill, who negotiated our entry into the European Union, admitted in his 1983 report to Lord Hume—by then, far too late—the Government simply did not understand the undemocratic system that was and remains employed by the European Union. Many people, as is quite obvious from what we have heard in the past 40 minutes, do not have the foggiest idea what that means in practice and the way in which the European Union actually functions.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

No. In a nutshell, every single law that goes to the Council of Ministers, which is the ultimate law-making body, does so by a majority vote of the 27 member stated behind closed doors, without even so much as a transcript and in total secrecy. Indeed, I had an exchange with the noble Lord Clarke of Nottingham on this matter when he was still in this House in 2017. He made it abundantly clear in his response to an intervention that the real legislative power of the Council of Ministers was exercised in private, going on to say,

“I used to find that the best business at the European Council was usually done over lunch”,—[Official Report, 14 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 215.]

which is fundamentally different from the way in which we have legislated since we left the EU and in this actual debate today. By contrast, we are conducting business today, and taking democratic decisions, by a majority of this House, which is proof in itself that it works.

In practice, in the context of the sunset arrangements in this Bill, clauses 12 to 16 provide delegated powers to restate, revoke and/or replace and update certain retained EU laws, which are secondary retained EU law and a new category of “secondary assimilated law”. Many of these powers are subject to the negative procedure, but the affirmative procedure is required where primary legislation is being amended or substantive policy change implemented. Some primary legislation is in the Bill. Where the negative procedure applies, the scrutiny system is similar to the work done by the European Statutory Instruments Committee, and it will be for the House to decide how that evolves in line with the democratic decision taken by this House today.

When the original proposals for the first withdrawal agreement Act were brought into effect, at my suggestion—I introduced a Bill on the subject—all EU law was then deemed to be UK law. But then remainers got to work and came up with the concept of retained EU law, which asserted the supremacy of the principles of EU law and decisions by the European Court. We may have left the EU, but a massive ball and chain was embedded in that Act preventing us from making our own sovereign laws on our own terms. I add, by way of parenthesis, that the Prime Minister responsible for that Act resigned—thanks to the Spartans.

Those laws had been made under sections 2 and 3 of the European Communities Act 1972. It is certainly true to say that since that date, not one single European law was ever repudiated by this House, because the provisions of that 1972 Act prevented it. We were therefore subjugated to the European Union and decisions of the European Court of Justice by our own irresponsible, voluntary abdication of the inherent and democratic procedures that evolved in this House over the best part of 400 years.

Our entry into the EU in 1972 was therefore a blind step into the void of an undemocratic and unaccountable system of government. These thousands of laws lack inherent democratic legitimacy, and must therefore be removed from and/or replaced on our statute book. The Bill also allows us to move back to the certainty implicit in the UK common-law way of doing things, as compared with the purposive interpretation of law by our judges, as laid down by the principles of EU law. Nobody can dispute that.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 3:00 pm, 18th January 2023

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have been told many times that when we are on Report, we should not make general speeches but refer to amendments. Can you make a judgment on whether what is being said is appropriate?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I have already exercised that judgment. If I thought that the hon. Gentleman was out of order, I would have ruled him out of order.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. So much for that.

Our system has relied uniquely on a large bench of high-quality, independent judges, who address points that are brought before them when people or businesses apply to the courts for remedies for perceived damage or misconduct. Through our traditional decision-making process, which must be interpreted in accordance with what is precisely set out in our sovereign Parliament, the judges must develop what is generally regarded as a fair and equitable system of redress, and set standards of care and determine consequences of breach in matters of responsibility and duty.

We therefore have to strip away vast amounts of inherited EU law, which operates on the constitutional code-based model that is alien to our system, so that we once again have a single common law system in our country—provided, of course, that we have the right people doing it, such as the Brexit opportunities unit, and that the task can be performed smoothly. In addition, economic research shows that this step will considerably enhance the UK growth rate, not by lowering standards but by removing or replacing voluminous, poorly drafted, generalised, purposive EU texts.

If we miss this opportunity, we will have shirked the core and inevitable consequence of the democratic decision that was taken by the people of this country. We must make our own sovereign democratic laws on our own terms, although on occasion, we may well decide to complement laws made in the US, parts of the EU or parts of the Commonwealth. Exchange across different constitutional arrangements sometimes leads to improved ways of doing things and improved laws, which is a good thing.

Ultimately, however, the simple test is what this House decides as the democratic law-making system under which we are governed; what the judges determine in the best tradition of our constitutional arrangements, which have been built up over many centuries; and how they interpret those laws in line with what our sovereign Parliament has decided. The work of the Brexit opportunities unit and of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, to whom I pay tribute, as well as the work of my Committee, is absolutely enormous.

The principle of the Bill was agreed on Second Reading and, as I said, in the Public Bill Committee. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Government for listening to the strong advice that I and others have offered. The Bill not only is justified democratically but, as enacted, will continue to be so. The freedoms that it will provide, in creating new opportunities for legislation, competitiveness and innovation, are self-explanatory.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I call the SNP spokesperson.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession)

It is a pleasure to follow Sir William Cash. Bluntly, we do not agree on much, but I do not doubt his enthusiasm for the subject. If what he is on comes in powder form, I would be grateful if he could slip me over some wraps—I think I am missing out on quite a journey.

Much as we disagree with the substance and content of the Bill, it is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Brendan O'Hara, who did much of the heavy lifting throughout its earlier stages and who, for his troubles, was rewarded by metamorphosing into our Chief Whip so he cannot be here today. I am pleased to carry on his work. The fact that he has maintained his sunny disposition and sanity during the process is testament to his fortitude, because when I read the earlier proceedings, I could not help thinking that they were some sort of satirical effort written by Armando Iannucci, Ian Hislop, Paul Foot or—to go back a bit further—Jonathan Swift or Lewis Carroll; I very much enjoyed “Nusrat in Wonderland” during the Minister’s opening speech.

I will focus on our amendments 29, 30, 31 and 33. We will press amendment 28 to a vote, because we believe that it is worth checking the mood of House. I will come on to the detail of that in due course.

I will speak about our philosophy and approach to the Bill, and about its import. I have never been more conscious of the difference in world view between Government Members and my party and country. We did not see the EU as a prison to leave or as undemocratic. EU laws were passed in conjunction with the democratically elected UK Government and democratically elected MEPs in the Council. The hon. Member for Stone talked about the codified basis of EU legislation, and he is right about that in codified jurisdictions, but to enter into the domestic legal framework of these islands, it had to be dealt with via statutory instrument. I really do not think, therefore, that the starting point of the Bill is correct.

I will give our bona fides. SNP Members deeply regret leaving the EU, as does my country, which voted against it. We in Scotland were taken out against our democratic will, so although the hon. Gentleman talks about a democratic deficit, Government Members should worry far more about the democratic deficit in the UK than the one in the EU. I see their smirks, as ever, but it is not just us that they are denigrating—it is the people of Scotland. In the last opinion poll, 72% of the people of Scotland wanted to go back into the European Union. We hear that Brexit has been such a success, but in 2016, the UK economy was 90% the size of the German economy and it is now 70%. If anybody would like to prove me wrong about that, they can try. These are facts.

I accept the democratic mandate that some hon. Members talk about, but in terms of where we are coming from with the Bill, I hope that Government Members respect our pro-EU sentiment, because it is deeply felt. To be clear, this is a matter of deep sadness and anger for us, but I am not interested in fighting old battles. I am interested in fighting future ones, however, and we will have plenty of those.

I say to Government Members: “If you will do this damn silly thing, don’t do it in this damn silly way.” I do not agree with the premise or the intent of this legislation, but it is the content that will quickly come back to haunt the Government, in exactly the same way that many other mistakes that were harrumphed to the rafters in this House came back to haunt the Government who tried to deny that they had anything to do with them.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Conservative, Aberconwy

The hon. Gentleman makes some interesting and thoughtful points. How, then, did leaving the European Medicines Agency come back to haunt the country, given that we were free to invest in and create a vaccine that has benefited others because we were not part of it?

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that often-quoted canard. As a starter, the European Medicines Agency had 700 jobs in London, which were lost. There was also absolutely nothing in the UK’s response to covid that membership or otherwise of it hindered; it is important to get that point across. It is perfectly legitimate to have wanted to leave the EU or the European Medicines Agency, but let us not claim that successes were predicated on things that they were not.

What I find so objectionable about the Bill is that it is unnecessary. I am really not interested in fighting old battles, but the people who voted leave and wanted to take back control of our laws and so on won—it happened, so get over it! They are not so much bad losers as bad winners. Every single law, regulation or standard, however it was derived through the EU channels over the long history of the UK’s involvement in it, is subject to this House and this Government—right now. Any legislative instrument that the UK Government want to amend, repeal or bin is open to that authority in the House right now, so there is a deeply ideological mistake in the Bill that, even at this stage, I urge hon. Members to think hard about.

The fact that we do not know how many legislative instruments will be affected by the scope of this Bill should give a sensible, rational Government pause. I do not dispute the idea that a greater complementarity of the domestic statute book is desirable: I am in favour of the codification of all UK and Scots law. If the UK had a unified Gesetzbuch the way the German Government have, we would have a far more logical legislative framework, but we do not need to set arbitrary deadlines that are going to come back to haunt our own officials and Ministers for the artificial black hole that will open up over various Whitehall Departments. That will not give any legislative certainty. It will give the opposite: there will be a chill effect over deeply held rights.

For those who want to take back control, I do not dispute the logic of the idea. If there is a particular legacy piece of EU legislation that is not fit for purpose, it is open to the Government to get rid of it through the normal legislative process, but this Bill is not the normal legislative process. We have heard much about parliamentary scrutiny, but this Bill is a huge blank cheque for here today, gone tomorrow Ministers who have demonstrated throughout the Brexit process a lack of foresight and competence. That is not a sensible thing to do. I appreciate that there is a degree of scrutiny over subordinate legislation, but it is nowhere near as good as the scrutiny of this House, which is why we will support amendment 38, which would make it clear that this House, and not here today, gone tomorrow Ministers, should be in charge of that process.

The idea is that the abolition of laws will lead to some sort of dynamism and freedom, but it will not. It will lead to legislative black holes into which bad actors will expand very quickly. The idea that the UK Government are properly set up to take due account of that, when they cannot even tell us how many instruments are under consideration, should be of concern.

So I do not like this Bill, and I really fear that the Government are making problems for themselves, because this legislation is neither rational, proportionate nor pragmatic. The idea that particular domestic provisions—they are all domestic provisions now; they have all been incorporated into domestic UK law—should, because of their origin rather than their content, somehow lapse is an utterly flawed premise.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I jib very strongly at the suggestion of avoiding the procedures whereby these laws were made. It is not just a question of their origin, because it is the EU and some people do not like it very much. It is rather because of the manner in which the procedures operate.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession)

That is a point on which we flatly disagree. These legislative instruments were for over 40 or 50 years accepted by the UK Government in this House and latterly in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Senedd and others. They were also incorporated by the hon. Gentleman’s Government into domestic law in order to provide ongoing continuity in legal sentencing. So where there are pieces of legislation that are not fit for purpose—or are somehow holding the country back from this brave new world we are all excited about—then get rid of them, but do not say that vast swathes of legislative instruments on our statute book should just somehow stop without any thought about their replacement or anything else; that is not a sensible way to go.

These are significant points. I accept there has been some hyperbole in describing what is at risk, but what is at risk is fundamental to how the citizens of our countries lead their lives: labour rights; rights to clean air and water; product safety; consumer protection; food quality; protection for women in the workplace; protection of biodiversity; trading standards; and health and safety. I could go on—there is a lot more, and colleagues will come on to that—but there are deeply held principles that our party cherished which under this Bill will be subject to a reversal process which we reject.

Turning to what we are looking to do and focus upon, we will support amendment 36 and also the Labour amendments on workers’ rights and other matters; we need a united front on this. Our focus, however, given that we are the SNP, is Scotland’s democracy. The Minister made a number of points about the increased power for the Scottish Parliament, and there are some powers, but if we are being fully intellectually robust about that process we also need to look at the interaction with the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and the fact that just yesterday a section 35 order was made by this Government. That is implicit in the devolution settlement; that makes clear that the reality of devolution is that anything done by the Scotland Parliament can be called in by the UK Ministers. I do not like that, but it is the reality of devolution, but the UK Internal Market Act makes clear that any future law of any Scottish emanation of government could be subject to calling in on political grounds in order to maintain the coherence of the UK internal market. That means every single power of the Scottish Parliament and every local authority, health service, university and all the rest is subject to a gainsaying that upends the fundamental principle of devolution.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs) 3:15 pm, 18th January 2023

What are my hon. Friend’s thoughts on the fact of those powers being called in by a Minister, not this House?

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession)

I agree with that point, but that is the reality of devolution, which is why we think devolution is not suitable for Scotland’s ambitions and wants.

The Act in question was passed by Labour Members, SNP Members, Greens, Liberal Democrats and three Conservative Members, yet it has been called in by the Secretary of State for Scotland. We will fight that; we think it is a bad decision and we will take it right the way through the courts. The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 makes it clear, however, that any future decision of any Scottish body is subject to it. The Bill makes it clear that the past is not safe either; existing bits of the domestic statute book are open to reversal as well, and some will fall off the statute book entirely. The Minister says she is keen for more powers for the Scottish Parliament, so I hope she will accept our amendment 28, which we will put to the vote, which makes that explicit. There are opportunities to tidy up EU elements of domestic statute. I fully accept that and I accept it needs to be done, but it is not done by setting fire to the house because we do not like the curtains in the downstairs privy, which is what this Bill does. It is, flatly, a damned silly thing.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a commonality of approach and of concerns, which he has voiced, between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? My hon. Friends the Members for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) and for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and I, and indeed Plaid Cymru Members, have tabled similar amendments—amendments 37 and 38, which I am glad the hon. Gentleman is pressing to a vote. Does he recognise that the capacity of our local civil service is constrained, particularly in relation to the “end of ’23” deadline? In Northern Ireland, which does not have a functioning Assembly, we have a particular challenge as none of this might drop off the statute book and no one is in political charge to take control of the situation.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The UK constitutional arrangements in London, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were all predicated upon the maintenance of the single market, the customs union and the EU; that was the balance of devolved competences that was struck. All this was upended by Brexit and the actions of the UK Government since. So there is deep consequence for the devolved settlements in all the home nations, and indeed the Brexit process, from this Bill.

If we are serious about protecting devolution—frankly, in light of yesterday’s decision, I do not accept that the UK Government are—we have put forward, as have others, ways to do so. But I do not think the Bill is fit for purpose. I disagree with its purpose; I think it was borne of spite and hubris rather than any pragmatic, rational process. I think it will cause problems for the UK Government—I say that with no pleasure—and in so doing will undermine the devolution settlement and cause grave disquiet to millions of our businesses and citizens.

I say to the Government that if they are going to do this damned silly thing, do not do it in this damned silly way.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I rise to speak primarily about new clause 1, but I will touch on other amendments.

This Bill delivers on the promise of Brexit, but also the practicalities of what that means for this country. The truth is that when people voted for Brexit across the country in large majority, especially at the last election, they wanted—to use a phrase that has been referred to a lot today—to take back control. There is no greater taking back control than having politicians and MPs in this place, and the Government that the people have elected, being able to decide our laws and make sure they are being implemented.

There has been a lot of talk about the idea that this is somehow a burden and a bonfire of rights. Actually, what we have seen in the Conservative party and the Government—I saw it myself last year—is an absolute passion to ensure that workers’ rights are at the heart of what we do. In my own work as a Back-Bench MP in the last year, I brought in a private Member’s Bill so that workers could keep their tips, which my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie is taking through its stages. On workers’ rights, we have backed private Members’ Bills on extending maternity rights and carer’s leave. We are doing that in lots of ways not because we are being forced to or because the EU has told us to but because we believe that that is the right thing to do. I fully back that.

The truth is that the Bill is about ensuring that, when voters elect us to this place, we have the ability to make changes. At the next election, they can choose to keep us or get rid of us, but, by kicking the issue down the road, which is in effect what some of the amendments are about, that will never happen. We need a deadline that is purposeful and delivers on what people voted for at the last election. We need to ensure that we are delivering in a timely fashion.

There is the idea that somehow we are putting too much work on to civil servants, that it will be too hard and that it is too much effort. Actually, we are voted in to be here to deliver and to ensure that our civil servants are delivering on the promises that we made to the British public. I have to say that civil servants do an amazing job; my experience with them has been fantastic.

I have heard lots of misinformation and, sadly, in some cases, disinformation in the media and in emails about what the Bill will do. It is not about reducing rights or reducing environmental measures. It is actually about looking at what laws are in place and being delivered in this country for the British people.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

The hon. Member and I have worked collaboratively on a number of things, including the Online Safety Bill. Given the vast swathe of legislation that has still yet to be determined, what is concerning is that there are difficulties around trust. I think in particular about the rights of workers built up over a number of years, environmental standards, and even several aspects of online safety. If, for such significant changes in existing provision, that legislation could be brought back to the House so that we could see it, that would restore confidence.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I enjoyed working with the hon. Lady on the Online Safety Bill, which made huge progress yesterday and is now going to the Lords. The key point here is that there are many laws—and many pieces of what I would consider to be red tape—on the statute book, some of which even those who wanted us to stay in the EU do not know exist. We need to go through a process to identify that. The Bill is about amending, repealing or replacing that legislation. One part of that is about ensuring that case law that currently refers to pieces of EU case law and others refers to UK pieces. There is legislation that will become rapidly out of date because it refers to old EU legislation, priorities and policies. That cannot be right. We need to ensure that our legislation is fit for purpose and up to date.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

On a small point that was just raised, may I mention that the Online Safety Bill is not retained EU law? There is a law in the European Union, but our Bill does not relate to that.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I agree with my hon. Friend.

I am conscious of time. The bit that I really want to touch on is this legislation’s role with regard to growth and small businesses. In the different world that we live in nowadays, it is essential that our small businesses—I believe that they are about 99% of all our businesses—can be nimble. We used to talk about having a shop on every corner, and we now have businesses that can be in every corner of the world. We need to ensure that they can grow and that they are not burdened with spending most of their time doing admin and back-office stuff to fulfil legislation that is out of date and unnecessary. We need to know what that legislation is.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

While most of the United Kingdom will benefit from the Bill, and my party will support the Government when it comes to the votes, Northern Ireland is being left behind due to the protocol, which Sir William Cash referred to. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that while we do these things tonight, we must ensure that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill goes through so that the people of Northern Ireland have the same rights as the rest of us in United Kingdom?

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I thank the hon. Member—my friend—for his comments. Absolutely, we need to get that sorted, because it is essential that we move forward in the right way.

My point on small businesses is that, at the moment, they need staff to do extra things to deal with Government—admin, processes and all those different things—and if we relieved that stress and enabled them to be more nimble, they could spend more of their time selling and doing rather than filling out paperwork. That has got to be a good thing. When we look at this legislation, we must ensure that everything is fit for purpose, that there is a purpose to it and that we are being purposeful in implementing it.

There are thousands of laws on the statue book that are not essential or necessary. They are just there, and many hon. Members probably do not realise that they exist. That cannot be good for this country. It cannot be good for growth and it cannot be good in particular for small businesses and those who run those small businesses.

There is lots more that I would like to talk about, but I will finish. I absolutely support the Bill and look forward to seeing it go to the Lords. I hope that Opposition Members will see the benefits that it will bring to this country and that, when they talk about taking back control, they realise that this is at the heart of that.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Labour, Leeds Central

The Bill certainly has not improved with age; on the contrary, all of its flaws have become more exposed as the chorus of criticism on it has become louder and louder. We have heard Ministers blame misrepresentation a lot this afternoon. I think that they need to realise that they have brought this mess entirely on themselves. I wonder whether now, on reflection, they regret embarking on a process that has made opponents of so many people they did not need to anger. This morning, I listened to the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, who was absolutely scathing about the Bill. The Government have brought that upon themselves. Whatever Ministers think it is that they are doing, this is very bad politics—not that it is for me to advise them.

The fundamental problem, as we have heard, is that the Government still do not seem to know what it is that they want to do. Here we are, six-and-a-half years after the referendum, and they cannot tell us precisely what they want to scrap, what they want to amend and what they want to save. They cannot tell us. For my sins, I read the Hansard of the Committee, and found that, despite being asked that question many times, the Minister could not or would not provide an answer. As yet, I describe this as a process without a purpose. In the meantime, as we have also heard, Ministers have created huge uncertainty for business.

It is extraordinary, and that is why I am supporting the amendments that have been tabled by my hon. Friend Justin Madders. They seek to give substance to what the Government claim, which is that they have no intention of sweeping away lots of environmental and consumer protection and workers’ rights laws; they just refuse to be specific about the ones they are going to keep. The amendments would make it clear beyond doubt which pieces of EU retained law will not be affected by sunsetting.

I am also supporting the cross-party amendment—amendment 36—tabled by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy because, whatever differences of view there may be in the House about other aspects of the Bill, surely nobody would argue that it is acceptable to repeal legislation by accident. Nobody can argue for that—that a piece of retained EU law should suddenly disappear from the statute book in just over 11 months because no one noticed its existence.

The Minister argued in Committee:

“Allowing outdated retained EU laws to languish on our statute book where they do not work in the best interests of the UK”— debate—

“is irresponsible.”––[Official Report, Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2022; c. 121.]

I would argue that it is irresponsible to propose this legislation, which could cause laws to disappear simply by neglect, given that Ministers cannot even produce a list of the so-called outdated laws—I simply do not understand this idea that all these bits of legislation are dragging the nation down—let alone a full and complete list of all the pieces of retained EU law that come within scope of this Bill. Because of that, the amendment my hon. Friend will be moving is necessary.

The Government have admitted that they do not have such a list. They have been asked repeatedly and the best answer they could come up with was that the

“dashboard presents an authoritative, not comprehensive, catalogue” of retained EU law. It might have been better to say, “We don’t yet know what it is we’re talking about.” I think that is a fair summary of the Bill and that is why the amendment is needed. It will provide a fall-back and a fail-safe and it gives the House control—there has been much debate about that today—about what stays and what goes. I hope Members will support it.

On the sunset date, everybody knows that it is completely unrealistic—everybody knows. In the Second Reading debate, a former holder of the job I had the privilege to do, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—Theresa Villiers—while supporting the Bill, said that there was a bit of a problem with the deadline here, because of what the Government were asking civil servants and Ministers to do. Nobody believes it is going to happen, which is why I argued last time that lots of this stuff will just be saved, using the powers that are within the Bill. We should help the Government by voting for amendment 18 to move the sunset date from this December to 2026.

Above all, this is a terrible diversion of resources and effort. There are so many things in this country at the moment that are not working. I am not going to go through the list, but we all know that because it is the experience of our constituents. Why do the Government not focus on those things, rather than on pieces of legislation that are working—because they protect our environmental standards, consumer rights and working conditions? The fact that they originated, in many respects, from the European Union really does not matter one way or another. They are laws that we approve of, we like and we want to keep and that is why so many people are so unhappy about this Bill: it threatens and it does not look as though the Government know what they are doing.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip 3:30 pm, 18th January 2023

First, I would like to put on record my support for this Bill. I fully understand the huge opportunities it presents for UK plc. I do not agree with those who believe this is a Bill to strip away rights and hard-fought-for gains in various legislation. Those who detract seem to forget that, when the UK was part of the EU, often, legislative change was led by this country to improve rights for all people in the EU, and it is because of this country’s input that many of these pieces of legislation are in place today in the EU. On that basis, there is no reason why we cannot enhance some of these laws further. This Bill will give us as a nation every opportunity to do so.

However, I would like to ask the Minister to ensure that, when changes are made, we take every opportunity to enhance laws beyond what we currently see. As well as doing that, can we ensure we have a swift mechanism so that when we do not get it right—in some instances we will not get it right—we can swiftly plug any loopholes? Today, I want to briefly highlight one sector that is being exploited not by the Europeans, but by far eastern countries as a result of us being too liberal—with good intention, I might add—from the outset after Brexit.

Currently, a member of the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys who is EU qualified but does not currently reside in the EU, cannot practise on EU trade marks in the EU, or in this country for that matter. When Brexit happened, the only criteria we adopted to represent a client here in the UK was the need to have a UK address—so the criteria are different from those under which we traditionally operated. The change, while it had every intention of making the system more open, actually has brought huge unintended consequences, with tens of thousands of additional applications clogging up the system. We see far eastern companies and others setting up a PO box in this country, which counts as having a UK address. On the face of it, that does not seem to be an issue, until of course you need to contact them, which you cannot.

Prior to Brexit, if a trade mark was breached in this country, a company would employ a trade mark attorney, who then would negotiate with the company or the attorney of the company breaching the trade mark or trying to apply for a similar trade mark. An agreement generally would be reached before having to go to court and the cost to UK business was more of an irritant than a substantial cost. Now we have a multitude of PO boxes where a company’s attorney cannot even get a reply by email from those so-called companies. That means it has to go to court on virtually every occasion. That is many times more costly for UK companies, not to mention the huge amounts of frustration and irritation that comes with the current process.

To highlight how huge this issue is, these foreign-based firms with PO boxes now account for 39% of all UK trade mark applications at the UK Intellectual Property Office, compared with just 19% prior to Brexit in 2019. If we are not careful, we will have a situation where trade mark-intensive industries, which by the way account for £770 billion of our GDP each year, may be completely undermined by what appears on paper to be a good change of legislation, but which in reality has the ability to totally undermine the sector and a huge part of our GDP.

Without taking any more of the House’s time, I would like to ask the Minister to reiterate what safeguards will be in place to ensure unintended consequences, such as those happening to the trade mark and intellectual property sector, do not happen. What can the Minister do to ensure we have a system in place where legislation can be changed quickly, as in the case of CITMA, when we totally miss the unintended consequences?

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I rise to raise amendment 36, tabled in my name and in the name of Mr Davis and many other Members across the House.

As far as I can see, there have been three responses to the Bill in Parliament. First, there are those who have not paid attention because—let’s face it—many years on from the Brexit referendum still anything that involves Europe is cold cup of sick territory. That is understandable but not excusable because it means that those people have not woken up to the fact that this is nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with an audacious ministerial power grab.

The second group are those who have read the Bill and are completely happy with the idea that the Government should just hit delete on all legislation with the word “Europe” in it, with all the confusion, chaos and complications that will cause for our constituents, because it is a price worth paying. That is not understandable, but it is excusable, because they do not see the laws at stake here—they just see the word “Europe”. There is an honesty in being so hellbent on the idea that anything we have ever shared with Europe is bad and it does not matter whether people value it—employment rights, environmental protections, consumer standards, flight safety rules. For them, if the choice is cake or death, it is death every time.

The third group of people are the people I am trying to appeal to today. They know this is not the right way to deal with retained EU law, but they hope that somebody else will step in and sort it out—the Opposition, other MPs, the Lords or perhaps even some divine intervention from the Lord himself. That is not understandable or excusable, because if the Bill goes through unamended it will stop us doing our job and it is our job to speak up for our constituents.

Today’s debate is not about how the Europeans make legislation. We have left the European Union. This debate is about exactly what taking back control meant, and about whether we will be able to speak up for our constituents on the issues that they care about. The emails in our inboxes show that they care. What was promised during the Brexit referendum campaign was not a sovereign Whitehall or taking back control in Downing Street, but that is exactly what the Bill does—and it does it in a way that is beyond parody. Personally, I think that the dashboard was created as a way to keep the then Business Secretary occupied putting random words into it. It is a farce that, as my hon. Friend Justin Madders said, we are legislating by website.

It matters that the scope of legislation is correct, which is what amendment 36 would ensure. Let me help Ministers out here, because they do not know how many laws are missing. We have already found many, including the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, the Marine Strategy Regulations 2010, the Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2007 and the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006.

In other cases, the dashboard lists regulations that are no longer laws, so some poor civil servant is going through them even though they no longer exist. The Financial Services and Markets Bill seeks to revoke at least four sets of EC regulations that do not appear on the dashboard. Two of the first five statutory instruments that it seeks to revoke are not listed on the dashboard either.

It is estimated that the process will cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds, at a time when we are all being told to tighten our belts because of the Government’s mismanagement of the economy. There are 3,500 pieces of legislation involved—that is the estimate, but there could be more, and I suspect that that is why the Minister does not want to be honest with us—in comparison with the 600 that we made during the Brexit process.

The Minister says that the dashboard will be updated, but it will be updated after the point at which we are being asked to approve the process. I will withdraw my amendment if Ministers can just give us a clear number and a clear list of what is in scope. I do not understand why that is an unreasonable proposition. Frankly, Back Benchers of any political party should be worried about the precedent set by legislation that allows the Government to give themselves an enabling power without defining its limitations.

That is before we even get on to who makes the decision about what happens next. Ministers want to tell me that I am scaremongering when I raise concerns about how they will use these powers—they say, “Of course we wouldn’t get rid of these laws.” Well, let us have a look at that scaremongering. I have been tabling parliamentary questions to try to understand what will happen to rights that all our constituents care about, such as paid annual leave, bathing water quality, sharps rules in hospitals, consumer protection from unfair trading, food hygiene and toy safety legislation. Those are surely things that Ministers would want to put beyond reach, so nobody could say that they might be revoked or accidentally lost down the back of the ministerial sofa, along with the 800 sets of regulations that have no ministerial leads and are quite likely to get lost in the process.

The problem I have is that Ministers are clear that there are some regulations that they are going to revoke and some they are going to keep. So they do know what they want to do with the power that Members are going to hand them; they just do not want to be honest about it. Why do they know that they want to keep the regulations on bird flu, but not those on maternity and paternity leave? The Minister ought to talk to her colleague the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, who wrote back to me clearly saying that the Government were reviewing that.

That is the problem: Conservative Members may trust their Government colleagues to do the right thing, in the same way that they might trust a 17-year-old when they ask for the keys to a Porsche “just to polish it”, but those of us who have been here and seen Governments of different colours, and the temptation that comes with ministerial power, know that the point about taking back control was parliamentary sovereignty. That starts with knowing what we are being asked to hand over: we are being asked to hand over oversight of an unknown number of laws. That is what amendment 36 asks for clarity on.

We also have to hope that our colleagues in the other place will make it clear that we can have influence—and not just in like-it-or-lump-it statutory instrument Committees; don’t kid anybody who has sat on one that they are a good or effective version of parliamentary scrutiny—and that we can speak up for our constituents. It may feel like cold cup of sick territory when we see something with the word “Europe” in it, but with all the rights and regulations up for deletion under the Bill, I promise that our constituents will not forgive us if we do not stand up for parliamentary sovereignty and support amendment 36.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

May I begin by thanking the fantastic Bill team, some of whom may be listening to our proceedings this afternoon? This was an extremely difficult piece of work to pull together. The hard work that they have put in to achieve that in a timely way shows, it has to be said, the British civil service at its best. I am sometimes quite critical of the British civil service, so it is nice to be able to put on record in Hansard my grateful thanks for the deeply impressive work that has been done.

The Bill is being enormously overinterpreted by Opposition Members, and—it has to be said, as my hon. Friend the Minister did—mainly by people who never wanted to leave the European Union anyway. I think the laws of physics are being rewritten by the opponents of Brexit, because as far as I am aware, things do not expand in black holes; that is rather the point of them. Things are sucked in, and even light is trapped by the gravity.

There is a misconception on the Opposition Benches, in so many respects, when it comes to this Bill and the amendments tabled to it. The amendments themselves are deeply confused. On the one hand, there is a concern that the Bill is a great power grab; that this enormously powerful state will snatch power away from the Houses of Parliament. On the other hand, Opposition Members want the regulations to be extended. Either this is a great power grab or the regulations should be extended; it cannot be both.

The truth is that the Bill is mainly technical. What it is doing is correcting our statute book so that we no longer have laws referring to European regulations that may themselves have been repealed or amended. We currently have rules that are based on things that either are out of date or even, possibly, no longer exist. That is no basis for our statute book. It is a technical tidying-up operation that will apply to the regulations that are kept.

However, if we look at clauses 4 and 5, we see that it is also technical in terms of ensuring that our law has one base, and that the validity of, speaking loosely, UK law—obviously there is Scots law, English and Welsh law, and Northern Irish law—has its own individual base, without EU law, EU law principles or a civil code approach influencing, upsetting and confusing it. That applies both to the principle of the supremacy of EU law and the general principles of EU law, and to the ability of our courts to revisit earlier judgments so that they are based on what we can loosely call UK law. It is an extremely sensible approach.

The SNP, as so often, becomes very confused in the European debate, because it wants, and makes its case for, greater sovereignty for Scotland, until it hands it all over to the European Union. The SNP wants independence from the Westminster Parliament, to which it makes a very noble contribution: I see in his place Ian Blackford, who certainly made a fine contribution as its leader here. So SNP Members make a contribution here, but they want to leave here to hand it to Brussels. That seems to me to be the definition of eccentricity, and something without a logical base.

What this Bill does is give power to the devolved authorities. They will be able to take retained EU law and do with it as they please. They can keep it, they can revoke it, they can amend it, but they cannot extend it. Why can it not be extended? That is a point that has been raised, and it is one about which people have some concern, because this is technical. This is turning the status quo into domesticated law. If people want to make the political argument for extending laws, they have the ability to do that where it is devolved. They have the power to do it, but it is not this Bill. Likewise, in this Parliament, if we wish to extend the regulations, we have the ability to do so. That brings me to an entirely spurious point that is being made.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber 3:45 pm, 18th January 2023

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will understand this point. Of course there is a difference: we wish to be back in the European Union as an independent country, but by dint of this Bill we are going to have to introduce legislation to make sure that we remain aligned with the European Union. We have no desire to do that, because we are already closely aligned. These measures are going to be forced on us, against our will, by this Parliament.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There will be some work for the Scottish Parliament to do to maintain the status quo. That is a policy decision for the Scottish Parliament, resulting from a decision that was taken by the whole United Kingdom. That is how devolution works, and that is a proper and fair working of devolution. That, actually, is what gives the Scottish Parliament the power to do what it wants to do. It flows from our constitutional settlement, and from the overarching decision made by the British people, as one people, to leave the European Union.

I now come to the entirely bogus point about the threat to rights. In his opening speech on Second Reading, my hon. Friend Dean Russell made it clear, on the Government’s behalf, that the environmental rights would be maintained. The Government have been and are committed to that. But they will maintain them in UK law. We have been able to that before. I believe Henry Brooke was the Home Secretary who introduced the Clean Air Act 1956. The Conservative party has a pretty good record on that. It turns out that the Sale of Goods Act 1893, to which I earlier referred the Minister, was one of the last Acts of Gladstone, so the Liberals should be proud of their history of doing things in a British way rather than needing the European Union to do it. The Conservatives introduced the Holidays with Pay Act 1938—again, the protection of workers’ rights. That is before we go back to Lord Shaftesbury and the Factory Acts. We do not need to go into the mists of time to see that we can do it ourselves.

Finally, I must mention amendment 36. This is the man upon the stair. We all know about the man upon the stair:

“Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he’d go away.”

If we do not know what our laws are, how are people supposed to obey them? If the laws are unknown, mystic and possibly imaginary, surely they should not be laws in the first place. They have made the best argument for getting rid of the man upon the stair who was not there in the first place.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will keep my remarks to the Bill’s impact on laws that fall within the remit of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Government’s dashboard lists only 570 laws that DEFRA identified as within the scope of the Bill. That figure alone would make DEFRA the most heavily impacted Department. However, in Committee it became clear that as many as 1,000 laws may be at risk of being revoked by the Bill’s sunset clause in December.

There are not the resources in DEFRA to enable officials to examine properly each of those laws in turn in the time remaining before the sunset sweeps them away. That is forgetting all the other work on environmental land management, sewage, waste, air quality and our commitments at the nature COP in Montreal. While our nature is depleted further due to the Government’s short-sightedness, we will have a year of navel gazing and the entire Department will be clogged up with months of pointless work reviewing lists of laws that no one wants to drop.

I take umbrage with Mr Rees-Mogg. There are no guarantees. The Government are not guaranteeing that a single law will be retained in UK law. They should prioritise their environmental commitments in the Environment Act 2021 and the 25-year environment plan, including the actions and policies necessary to deliver nature’s recovery by 2030, as well as the environmental targets, the statutory instrument for which will become law next Monday. Those should be the Department’s priorities.

A definitive list of environmentally important measures does not exist. One could say that the Government have played themselves. It is the same old story, but there is still time to change the ending. We know that the list is even more extensive than the comparable list of retained EU law that provides critical protections for workers’ rights and conditions. The inventory of workers’ rights legislation is shorter and more easily identifiable.

There are important differences between the three domains of rights and protections highlighted by Labour’s amendments, all of which would set us back on the right path and change the ending. The Bill is unnecessary and we need to retain all those regulations and laws as minimum standards in this country. The retained EU environmental laws covered by the Bill include major protections that we rely on for clean air, clean water and safe foods. They provide crucial safeguards for the world’s most nature-depleted nation. Those are not my words but the words of Lord Goldsmith, a Government Minister in the other place.

Under the Bill, critical environmental protections face the prospect of being revoked or replaced by weaker regulations. Those are our real, identifiable concerns. Due to the extremely limited time available to consider and draft workable replacements before the application of the sunset clause, and the lack of parliamentary oversight and public consultation, we must focus on those issues if we want the Government to change the direction of the Bill. The Government have said that they are committed to maintaining environmental protections. The right hon. Member for North East Somerset said that

“the Government is committed to maintain all the environmental protections that currently exist and met a number of the environmental lobby groups to confirm this”.

That quote was from an earlier time but I think he just repeated himself. There is no guarantee—it his just words on the record, and he is no longer a member of the Government.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

Is it not also the case that, as far as we are aware, the perception of environmental legislation held by the right hon. Member for North East Somerset tends to be very much a narrow thing about habitats, water and so forth? It does not include things like product standards, chemical regulation or efficiency standards, for example, all of which might not necessarily be dealt with by DEFRA but which absolutely affect us every day of our lives.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

There is a point about REACH—the EU regulation concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—which was mentioned in the Bill Committee, but I want to give other Members time to make their speeches, so I will take on the hon. Lady’s points and I am sure others will pick them up later in the debate.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As I have mentioned the right hon. Gentleman twice, I will give way to him.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I am very grateful. I just want to clarify a point. It is not my word that has any significance in this; it is a Dispatch Box commitment, by which Governments tend to be bound successively. I would point out that, on legislative reform orders, this Government have tended to follow the Dispatch Box commitment given by Paul Goggins when he was a Labour Minister. Dispatch Box commitments are important.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I look forward to repeating the words of the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister on the Treasury Bench in December this year, to see if that is true. Only time will tell. Maybe my poor level of trust might be wiped away or eroded, but I doubt it.

I will conclude, to give others more time. The Bill as it stands today gives us no protections and is a charter for a bonfire of rights and protections that the public not only hold dear but need in order to breathe clean air, drink clean water and ensure that our countryside is not ravaged by destruction and extraction. That is why I am supporting our Front-Bench Members and the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

I want to start by thanking the Minister for the “Dear colleague” letter that arrived last night. It went a long way to myth-busting some of the misinformation that has been put out about this Bill, particularly by clarifying that it will not weaken environmental protections and that the Government are committed to protecting workers’ rights. However, the letter did not mention consumer legislation. Consumer legislation is often dealt with by many different Government Departments, and that might be part of the reason why. I particularly want to focus on consumer legislation.

I worked for many years as a British MEP representing British constituents, and I also chaired the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee, which is responsible for consumer legislation, so I am very aware of how important much EU consumer legislation is to protecting constituents—British consumers—and this covers many areas, including food safety, product safety and safety when we travel.

But I am also aware that EU legislation is not always perfect in all regards. Yes, the UK played a key part in negotiating much EU consumer law, but that does not mean that every single element of the law perfect fits the UK market or UK consumer needs. In some cases, the UK might have wanted to introduce different or even stronger protections, but to get consensus across all the EU member states, either a one-size-fits-all or a lowest-common-denominator approach was sometimes followed. For example, I sometimes saw larger companies lobbying on specific regulations or product specifications and making them so specific that smaller competitors would find themselves locked out of the market, thus stifling competition and reducing consumer choice. So I agree with the principle of the Bill that all of Whitehall needs to look again at all EU retained law and ensure that it fits UK needs.

Furthermore, where unnecessary regulation produces additional costs, these costs are too often passed on to consumers. In today’s economic environment, so many of our constituents have such pressures on their household budgets, and we need to reduce those unnecessary costs, so I understand why clause 15 has been drafted. However, this does not mean that removing all consumer regulation is in the consumer’s interests, because a well-regulated market can benefit consumers, especially when it comes to safety measures. There might be examples where it would be sensible for the UK actually to increase safety measures and therefore increase regulations in some places.

We also need to make sure that important protections do not inadvertently drop out of our legislation during this process. It is therefore important for Ministers to ensure that equivalent or improved legislation is put in place, so that consumer interests, especially regarding safety, can still be protected. I hope the Minister will be able to comment on that in the wind-ups.

We should also recognise that there are some areas, particularly in fast-moving sectors, where new or deeper regulation is needed. The consumer organisation Which? regularly reminds us that product safety regulations do not fully cover the way in which consumers spend their lives online, and there may be an opportunity to improve that in the forthcoming digital markets, competition and consumer Bill. Product safety regulations could be updated, given that the consultation is shortly to be launched by the Office for Product Safety and Standards. We need to make sure that the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill does not cut across those other initiatives.

The UK has a very strong global reputation for producing good regulation. This matters, because we want to encourage businesses from all over the world to produce, manufacture and sell in the UK market. That helps to create jobs in each of our constituencies, to increase prosperity and to drive growth here in the UK. In order to do that, businesses need certainty, so they want to have a transparent regulatory process that includes consultation, with both businesses and consumer organisations, and the parliamentary scrutiny that is important to help reduce the risk of unintended consequences.

We know that producing good regulation, drafting changes and consulting on those changes can take time. We also know, and it is important to say again, that the Bill in itself does not repeal all EU law. It just introduces a sunset clause for the majority of that law. The sunset clause has been set for the end of this year, and anyone who has worked on detailed regulation knows that is a very short period of time. However, tight deadlines focus minds. The Bill provides for an extension mechanism for specified pieces of EU law until 2026, and for some retained EU law to be preserved and incorporated in domestic law, where needed.

I heard what the Minister said about the dashboard, which is a helpful audit, and I have looked closely at amendment 36 and understand where it is coming from, but much more important to delivering the Bill is how it will be implemented. I therefore ask four things of Ministers. First, I urge them to set out, clearly and as quickly as possible, which regulations will have the 2023 sunset. I urge them not to be afraid of using the option to extend to 2026, where necessary. I urge them to ensure that the protections for consumers are not inadvertently dropped during this process, and to look across Whitehall at all consumer legislation. Finally, I urge them to make sure that any new or amended consumer legislation is properly introduced in an orderly way, with proper consultation and scrutiny.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 4:00 pm, 18th January 2023

One of the loveliest plaudits I have had since becoming a Member of Parliament is to be named as a species champion for the brimstone butterfly. If I had longer, I would tell the House about what a beautiful butterfly it is and how it can be conserved.

This debate reminds me of my daughter’s favourite film, “The Lorax”, which I have seen many, many times. The Lorax stands and speaks for the trees. Today I am speaking not only for the trees but for nature. There are very legitimate concerns about the impact of revoking all retained EU law, and those concerns come from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Butterfly Conservation, Buglife, Plantlife, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, the Bat Conservation Trust and the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. These are not radical or militant groups. They are not interested in the rights and wrongs of Brexit, and many were in existence long before the UK even joined the EU. Their intervention is unprecedented. These are mainstream conservation charities that rely on their membership, which I know personally is comprised of people with completely different political beliefs who share a common desire to improve and support nature. When the RSPB calls this Bill “an attack on nature,” we have to listen.

The Government created the category of retained EU law to ensure continuity after leaving the EU, and their deadline is arbitrary. Anyone would think the Prime Minister is more concerned about the upcoming local elections and the impending general election than about doing the right thing. The Bill flies in the face of common sense. Rushing to get rid of legislation without the time or the capacity to consider properly what we might want to keep does not make sense. As has been repeatedly pointed out in this debate, the Minister is not even aware of all the legislation that we might be getting rid of. It feels as though the Government are intent on cutting their nose off to spite their face. This is childish and it is another example of the Prime Minister putting the needs of his Brexit extremists ahead of what is right for our country.

The Environment Secretary had told the Environment and Climate Change Committee that 1,000 pieces of legislation were possibly involved, but we know that that figure has doubled, and the Minister is unable to give a final figure. If we do not know how much legislation is impacted, how can we possibly consider what we want to keep? Let us look at what is at risk. The environmental protections at risk include the highly effective habitats regulations, which protect some of most threatened and rare species and their habitats from the impacts of inappropriate development and persecution; the water framework directive, which regulates water pollution prevention and drives forward quality improvements in rivers and lakes; and the plant protection products regulations, which provide protection for all the environment and human health from pesticides.

Of course, what we want is to strengthen and not destroy, but this Bill makes a nonsense of the country’s environmental targets and commitments, and the Environment Secretary knows it. The confusion in this Government is shown by the fact that, on the one hand we have the new statutory English biodiversity targets published under the Environment Act 2021, which add to the pre-existing target of having 30% of the country protected for wildlife by 2030, while on the other hand DEFRA is consumed by a scramble to redraft regulations that have taken decades of work and expert consultation to evolve, under the direction to “lessen environmental burdens”. Like the rest of government, DEFRA is pulling in two directions at the same time.

Clause 15 prevents redrafting by precluding any that would “increase the regulatory burden”, even if these burdens that we are so worried about increasing amount to only an administrative inconvenience. It is crystal clear that the only outcome can be a weakening of environmental protections for our air, soils and water, and an increase in the loss of biodiversity. I believe that the public really care about this. The membership of all those organisations, right across the whole of our country, in every constituency, care too. We are a nation of animal lovers and we want the air we breathe and the waters around us to be clean. If we do not know what we are getting rid of, how it may have an impact and what difference it might make, how can we be sure we are doing the right thing? I was always taught that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. So will the Government just calm down, focus and get it right? Our country will pay the price if they do not.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

I will be brief. My arguments will be simple and they will go straight to amendment 36.

When Hilary Benn spoke, I had a flash of déjà vu, back to the days when I co-operated with his father, thwarting the Blairite attempts to bypass Parliament some years ago. It came back to me that his father and I also shared a view on the European Union, with both of us knowing that it was undemocratic. We knew that both from ministerial experience and because we had read out history; Monnet and Schuman had designed it to be undemocratic, which was why we wanted to leave.

I say to the Minister, given what was said before from the Front Bench, that I come at this as a convinced and campaigning Brexiteer. I remind the House, given the substance of this Bill, that I resigned from Cabinet to preserve the right to diverge from the EU. So I agree with the aims of the Bill, but I also agree with the SNP spokesman, Alyn Smith, about its effectiveness in delivering those aims. I voted and campaigned to improve democracy; I wanted to take back control in order to give it to Westminster, not to Whitehall. However, that is what we have here.

When the Minister was speaking earlier, she talked about the consultations, but they were not with us—they were with the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Departments of State and not with us. But we are the people who are responsible for this legislation. What is more, we are being asked to sign a blank cheque—one might almost say a pig in a poke—because we do not even know how many pieces of legislation are going through on the back of this Bill, let alone what they are. That, of course, is not democratic. We have heard the anoraks talking about this SI Committee, that sifting Committee and so on. That is not the Floor of this House. These issues are sufficiently important—some of them, not all of them—to be debated in the Chamber. Just glancing down the list, I see: aviation safety; compensation rules; insider trading; protecting a pensioner’s payout when a company goes bust—I cannot think of anything more significant to our constituents than that; and preventing the trafficking of illegal weapons. These are substantive issues that need to come to us.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I hesitate to stop the right hon. Gentleman, but does he therefore agree with me that the fact that Ministers have already unilaterally decided to revoke the piece of legislation that protects our constituents getting 50% of a pension pot if their company goes bust, without any consultation with us because they will use the powers in the Bill simply to let it be deleted, makes exactly his case as to why this is not democracy or taking back control?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

If the hon. Lady had given me 30 seconds, I would have made exactly that point. I agree with her. This morning, or last night, we had No. 10 rushing to brief the papers and to write to us saying that the Bill will not remove existing rights and protections, which is plainly not true, and that it will not impinge on environmental rights and so on. That demonstrates what a great hole there is in the middle of this legislation. If those matters were covered in the law, we would not need to have that assurance. All of the non-governmental organisations that are concerned—I do not agree with all of them—would not have had to have their say either.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, because I, too, am very much in favour of parliamentary scrutiny and things being done properly. Everything that is covered by this Bill came in by a secondary measure and therefore it is proportional. Primary legislation is not within the scope of the Bill. If anything that came out of Europe came through in primary legislation, it will have to go through consideration on the Floor of the House. Unless my right hon. Friend is against secondary legislation altogether, I do not quite understand why he finds this Bill so shocking.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

I am sorry, but two wrongs do not make a right. The reason why I did not like the European Union was precisely what my right hon. Friend has just described. We had things almost de facto imposed on us. We went down an SI-type route to do things that I thought were important enough to justify discussion on the Floor of the House. The depletion of debate on the Floor of the House, mostly in the years before he came into the House, was one reason I was a Brexiteer.

We have approached this issue in a different way in other respects. Let us imagine that we are talking about 4,000 pieces of law, regulations or whatever. In truth, probably 90% of that may be clunky and may not work very well, but there is one thing in the Bill that I approve of, which is dealing with the superiority of European law—taking those priorities out of it. That is sensible. Once we have dealt with that, things will broadly work and will not justify a rush at this exercise. Let me explain very briefly what I think the consequences of that will be. I said that it is not democratic, but it will also be inefficient and possibly incompetent. I give the House, as a demonstration of this, what we did on 3 March 2020. You may remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, that that was the day that we gave the Government all sorts of powers under the emergency Coronavirus Act 2020. If we look, we can see how many errors were made in governing the country over the next six months, until we corrected that Act. If we do not bring a Minister to that Dispatch Box to justify what they are doing, the quality of the decision goes down, and that is dangerous when we are talking about measures as important as these.

The right approach is the one that we have actually taken in some areas. For example, we are rewriting the General Data Protection Regulation under a digital Bill. We are rewriting Solvency II and other financial measures under primary legislation, and the same is true for some procurement work. We should be doing similar things with some other software elements and biomedical rules. That is the way to do it: pick off the 10% or the 5% that really matter—that make 100% of the difference—and do that properly, on the Floor of the House, and not by remote control on a ministerial diktat in an SI Committee upstairs.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Davis in this debate. I rise to speak to amendment 36, tabled in my name and the names of right hon. and hon. Members from across the House, and to pay tribute to Stella Creasy for her hard work in drafting and tabling it.

In a nutshell, as the hon. Lady has already said, we do not know what thisthe Bill covers, and neither do the Government. The Government’s dashboard lists just over 2,400 EU-derived laws; the former Minister, Dean Russell, who is no longer in his place, admitted that that was,

“an authoritative, not comprehensive, catalogue” of the legislation. The National Archives, based in Kew in my constituency, has identified significant omissions in the Government’s dashboard, and the Financial Times has suggested the true total could be closer to 4,000 pieces of legislation. We simply do not know what we are voting on today.

Amendment 36 would ensure that the Government produced a definitive list of legislation to be revoked or reformed through this Bill, to ensure that the scope of the work is clear to everyone. As things stand, there is a risk that some laws will fall automatically if the relevant Department has not identified them.

The amendment would also ensure that Parliament has the ultimate say on which legislation is affected by the Bill, giving Members of this House the power to amend the revocation list by adding or removing instruments. It is important to remember that, when we talk about retained EU law, we are talking about legislation that guarantees a host of rights, including workers’ rights such as holiday pay and maternity pay, data protection rights and legislation that determines our animal welfare and food quality standards. Yet we could see huge swathes of law revoked or reformed with no parliamentary scrutiny or consultation—and it is not just parliamentarians who are concerned; hundreds of my constituents have emailed me in support of this amendment.

This Bill is simply an undemocratic power grab by the Conservative Government. It is not acceptable for the Government to make arbitrary but legally binding decisions on behalf of the whole country without following a proper legislative process. This is a Bill completely devoid of Parliamentaryparliamentary oversight and accountability, and it will be our constituents who suffer from declining standards as a result.

Liberal Democrats are extremely concerned about the potential for environmental deregulation through this Bill, which the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has described as an “attack on nature”. The UK is already one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, and the Government cannot afford to relax regulation. We urgently need better regulation in this area and better resources to implement and monitor that regulation, yet the agencies responsible for regulating our air and water quality and preventing pollution have been rendered toothless by this Government.

Just this week, in my constituency, Thames Water has announced plans to replace water from the River Thames at Teddington Lock with treated sewage in times of drought. Who is going towill be monitoring the water quality to ensure that that treated sewageit maintains a high water quality standard? There is huge concern among my constituents. The last thing they want to hear is that the existing regulations to maintain water quality standards through the River Thames will just be scrapped and that whatever is put in place to replace it will not have adequate parliamentary scrutiny. What arewill the Government going to do to ensure that agencies responsible for monitoring Thames Water are held to account? I hope the Minister in their closing remarks will address the concerns already raised in this debate about how the Government will ensure that thisthe Bill does not put our environment further at risk.

I am also concerned that thisthe Bill will cause yet more economic damage and uncertainty for businessbusinesses and households at the worst possible time. By setting a deadline of the end of 2023 for thousands of pieces of legislation to be scrapped, the Government are creating an unnecessary cliff edge. It is unrealistic for officials to trawl through and effectively scrutinise thousands of laws, and enact replacements, in less than 12 months.

When I am out and about talking to businesses and business groups, they tell me that the one thing our economy needs right now is certainty. How can they possibly have that certainty when so many of the regulations that underpin their operations are just going to be scrapped? The other thing they tell me is that they like a clear regulatory environment, as it creates a competitive playing field and gives consumers confidence. What they really like is parliamentary scrutiny of that regulation, which they believe creates good regulation and good law.

It is likely that many key sectors will be left in legislative confusion, with EU laws scrapped and no UK laws to take their place. After years of low growth due to Conservative incompetence, and months of worsening business conditions, the last thing businesses need is increased barriers to trade and more uncertainty—yet that is what this Bill will bring.

To conclude, the Bill is an undemocratic power grab that gives Conservative Ministers the power to eliminate vital pieces of legislation. There is no comprehensive list of legislation that will be affected by the Bill, and Parliament has no say over its scope. The Liberal Democrats will vote against the Bill. It is unnecessary and unrealistic, and it will serve only to cause more uncertainty while potentially eliminating or watering down key protections for our constituents. At the very least, I urge the Government to accept amendment 36 to increase the transparency of the laws that are impacted by the Bill and ensure that Parliament is not sidestepped in such an important process.

Photo of Marcus Fysh Marcus Fysh Conservative, Yeovil 4:15 pm, 18th January 2023

I voted for the independence that we gained from leaving the EU, as did many of my constituents. But they and I want to see us take advantage of the flexibility to make our own law that that independence gives us. That is the point of Brexit, and I think that one of the frustrations for people around the country has been in not seeing that taken to its logical conclusion.

The Bill is an overdue but welcome part of that. It is necessary because we are looking to streamline our systems and give them precision and certainty through a full framework of UK law-making, not EU judge-led interpretation and code. We need the Bill for the flexibility and agility that it will give us in being able to promote competitiveness and law that is appropriate to our conditions in these islands, and focus on the things that are important to our constituents. We need those laws to be accountable to them. We need the Bill for practicality and pace in achieving that. We do not need the process of engaging with the review of our retained EU law to be hamstrung by the House of Lords, or for the order paperOrder Paper to be commandeered by interest groups and Opposition Members.

We need to establish this common law framework by which our law can evolve. We do not want it to be subject to enduring purposive confusion and obstruction by European Court of Justice judgments, which inevitably affect the interpretation of law that originated from EU sources. We need the Bill to focus on those things. We need it not to be confused on these matters by arguments from the other, unelected, House. As people have mentioned, there are extensive powers in the Bill to provide that there are no lacunae in our laws by virtue of the revocation and the sunset. There are powers to restate and remake our law should those lacunae appear.

Overall, the Bill is essential to send a clear message to the government machine that it needs to apply itself now and finish the work that it has started. I am confident that it can and will do that. The civil servants whom I have seen working on these things are extremely dedicated and absolutely able to achieve that. After we pass the Bill, we need Ministers in every Department to step up and lead. They absolutely can do that, and they can do it well—there is time, but it will require a coherent process. They need to be focused on triage and prioritisation, with assistance from, at the centre, the Brexit opportunities group in the Cabinet Office, about which we have heard. That group can commission outside counsel to help with that process, to drill down into the most important things to achieve and to achieve them efficiently, and to set up common law frameworks for the evolution, clarification and elaboration of our principles in common law on all these matters.

It is also very important that that process involves practitioners from industry. Sometimes, we listen too much to the CEOs of big companies and the heads of various industry bodies, who often are political in their outlook, rather than thinking about the practicalities of getting from A to B and coming up with proposals that would make a genuine positive difference to how our laws and regulations evolve. We need to ensure that we have those mid-level practitioners present in these discussions to ensure that the practical avenues are taken up.

In response to my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, one thing that Ministers might like to think about is whether, in these things wherechoosing to bring to the Floor of the House those matters that we can make a big practical difference, they might choose to bring those matters to the Floor of the House on, so that we can examine them more, help to champion them and celebrate what we are doing. That might be a thing something that we could all agree on. I am confident that if we pass thisthe Bill unamended, we can together bring more precision and clarity to how our law evolves. The Bill will be of tremendous advantage to all the United Kingdom.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

I rise to speak in support of amendments 18, 19, 21, 24 and 36. What is clear from the Government is that this Bill is ideologically driven, lacks common sense, avoids parliamentary scrutiny and puts rights and protections that we have had for many years at risk of being revoked and deleted. In short, thisthe Bill plays Russian roulette with our rights and protections, and the Government cannot even tell us how many or give us an exhaustive list of which ones. When the Government unite groups ranging from the RSPB to the Law Society in opposition to the Bill, they should take note. This Bill creates uncertainty and is careering at great speed towards the edge of a cliff on 31 December 2023.

If the Government want to ensure that workers’ rights and environmental protections are not lost, they will have no problem in accepting amendments 19 and 21, which would exclude those rights and protections from the 31 December sunset clause and stop them from falling off a cliff edge. The Government have adopted 31 December as the date for the sunset clause, but they have not told us why. If they cannot even provide a definitive list of all the EU retained law that will be revoked in time for that date, surely that suggests we need more time to get the list ready.

Considering the wide range and extent of the rights and protections that we know about, surely having a longer sunset clause will help the Government to give greater certainty, which we were told was one of the reasons for thisthe Bill. The Government should therefore have no problem at all in accepting amendment 18, which extends the sunset clause to 2026. It would also allow the Government greater opportunity to bring Bills for primary legislation, allowing greater scrutiny by thisthe House in replacing the retained law that they propose to delete.

The Minister has continually failed to answer the question of exactly how many retained EU laws will be revoked under the sunset clause, and I do not understand why that is a problem. Surely all the retained EU law is there before us, and we should be able to find out exactly which regulations need to be retained and which will be deleted? There is no excuse. No new EU law has come about since we left the European Union, so that retained law should be easy to find. I cannot understand why we do not know which laws will be revoked under this Bill.

Amendment 36 requires the Government to publish an exhaustive list of every piece of legislation that is to be revoked under the sunset clause. Parliament should not be asked to vote on the revocation of these laws when we are not aware of which laws or how many there are. We need to be told, because that is one of the very points of having this Bill before us.

On the Henry VIII powers that the Bill gives to Ministers, which are designed to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, what are the Government afraid of? We should have parliamentary sovereignty; we should be the ones to decide which laws we want to retain and to revoke. Primary legislation should be brought for the laws that are revoked. There is no excuse for the clause to be there. Do the Government deny that there is a need for primary legislation? There will be laws revoked for which there will need to be legislation. Which ones are they and why can they not be put into a Bill and brought before this House? That would be give the House greater scrutiny and allow us to ensure that we do not accidentally lose certain laws.

The Bill is a bonfire of our rights and protections. The haste with which it is being brought through Parliament and the 2023 sunset clause put us in serious danger of things being accidentally revoked and our rights and protections being lost. The amendments proposed make a bad Bill better, and the Government would be wise to support them. If the Government press ahead with the Bill unamended, they will have to explain to the House when any rights and protections are lost after 31 December, and they cannot then say that they were not warned.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings 4:30 pm, 18th January 2023

The great constitutional theorist A.V. Dicey declared:

“The principle of parliamentary sovereignty means neither more nor less than this...that Parliament has the right to make or unmake any law whatever”.

When we joined the EU, despite the promise at the time of Europhilic politicians like Edward Heath that it was an economic community, what happened in practice was that this place paradoxically used the very sovereignty it had inherited from generations before to give up sovereignty and surrender parliamentary authority. The promise of Brexit was a repudiation of such international law making. I know that it discomforts the globalist liberal elite that that promise will and must be delivered, but that is how it is and how it will be. The people’s will must be seen and must be seen to be done, and that is precisely what this Bill is all about.

The journey since 2016 has not been easy. The doubters and deniers—the schemers and plotters—unable to let go of their Euro-federal fantasies, have conjured every trick imaginable to try to stymie Brexit. However, this Government are clear: we will deliver on the promise made in 2016 and restore parliamentary sovereignty to this country. In doing so, we will re-empower the people to whom we are answerable.

I will pick up a couple of points made by Opposition Members. I enjoyed the rhetoric of the SNP spokesman, Alyn Smith, which was as elegant as ever. I particularly enjoyed his criticism of hyperbole, which was immediately followed by a hyperbolic list of all of the things that are now at risk. Do any Opposition Members really believe that the Government or Government Members want less safety for our workers, dirtier rivers and less protection of the environment? If they do, they cannot have listened to what Members on the Tory Benches have advocated and fought for, in many cases, for years.

It is an absurdity that, six years on from the referendum, we remain shackled to thousands of articles of retained EU law. I accept that whether we keep, amend or discard those articles needs to be a thorough process, but there must be a single means of delivering that process, which is precisely what this Bill is. Some claim that this is a power grab, but this process—this business of secondary legislation; this use of statutory instruments —was how these regulations found form in the first place. It is a well-established practice that Governments through time have used to deal with such matters, and will again.

That detailed practice requires a Bill of the kind that has been drafted. Without such impetus, we risk wallowing in the malaise and self-doubt that can too often infect those tasked with grand undertakings. After six years, the British people deserve a deadline by which they can know for certain that Britons will live exclusively under British law, free from the interference of foreign powers. This Bill delivers the very certainty that those who criticised it have called for today. Such self-confidence is anathema to the hon. Members who still balk at the audacity of the 17 million Britons who believed in Britain enough to vote for Brexit.

To hon. Members who have signed amendment 36, I say that it is, by definition, an attempt to dilute, delay and obfuscate. Such efforts must be resisted. There are those who remain unreconciled to the decision of the British people to leave the EU, but any device to perpetuate our legislative connection to the EU is incompatible with our national interest and the common good. The unamended Bill facilitates the removal of our EU hangover through all the necessary, democratic mechanisms.

The Bill is a decisive and unequivocal declaration of self-confidence in self-governance. At last, we have a Government who display such self-confidence, free of the doubt and guilt that has infected politicians on both sides of the House for far too long. Edmund Burke said that what matters

“is not what a lawyer tells me I may do, but what humanity, reason and justice tell me I ought to do.”

What we ought to do now is deliver what the British people missioned us to do in 2016: to ensure that the laws and regulations that affect their lives are made in this House and that their Government are free to lead that process.

I enjoyed the speech of hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), which was rather like a Russian novel—very long but with good bits—but he must know that there are any number of ways in which Ministers are accountable to the House. For example, they can be questioned orally and in writing, and they can be challenged through Opposition day debates, Standing Order No. 24 debates and urgent questions. Ministers should and will be held to account by both sides of the House in all kinds of formal and informal ways, but we could never hold to account those foreign powers that dictated our laws for far too long.

Now, we escape.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

Mr Davis described the Bill as a pig in a poke. I think it is a pig in a poke that the Government have put lipstick on. We have heard about taking back control many times this afternoon, so I am at a loss to understand why Government Members would go through the Lobby in support of this Bill. In effect, a whole range of legislation will be wiped out, but they do not know what it is or what authority they are giving to the UK Government. They do not even know whether it will be 3,000, 4,000 or more pieces of legislation. It is extraordinary that a group of people who want to take back control are giving authority to the UK Government to do what they like without any scrutiny in this House—that is exactly the point of the Bill.

We have heard that we should not worry, because we will have statutory instruments and the ability to hold the Government to account, but the last time that the Government were defeated on a statutory instrument was in 1979—my goodness. Those who want to take back control talk about parliamentary sovereignty and the lack of democracy in the European Union, but all that they are doing is giving untrammelled powers to Ministers to do what they like. There is nothing that the Opposition or Government Back Benchers can do to effectively hold the Government to account. What an extraordinary set of circumstances.

SNP Members have always accepted that it is the right of others in other parts of the United Kingdom to determine their future. They want to leave the European Union, but we reject that—of course, we do not want to leave. As my hon. Friend Alyn Smith said, according to a recent opinion poll, 72% of the public of Scotland want to stay in the European Union. We have a tale of two different Parliaments moving in different directions. It is clear that Scotland is on a journey to independence and we will rejoin the European Union as a member, hopefully soon. To do that, however, we need to remain aligned with the European Union.

This is about democracy. We have referred to the Scotland Act 1998 on many occasions, as we did yesterday in the debate on section 35, and it is worth reflecting on the difference between what happened there and what is happening today. We have a Parliament in Edinburgh that we are proud of. There was a majority in that Parliament for legislation that was passed before Christmas, yet this Government in London can bring in legislation under the Scotland Act that strikes out an Act of the Scottish Parliament and there is nothing we can do about it. In this particular case, the legislation impinges on domestic legislation and devolved legislation in Scotland. The principle was established in the Scotland Act that in order to do that the principle of consent stood—the so-called Sewel convention. That means the devolved Government in Edinburgh, and in Cardiff and in Belfast, have to give consent for matters that affect domestic legislation. Yet we are told to go and stick it—the view of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government that this is not in our interest and we do not consent to it.

We saw yesterday that a UK Government can strike down a Bill of a Scottish Parliament. Why does not the Scottish Parliament have the right to say to this Government that they are doing that without our consent? That demonstrates to the people of Scotland that devolution as it works at the moment means Westminster continues to call the shots. Westminster determines what happens in devolved legislation. It is a wake-up call to the people of Scotland in the debate we are having on independence that, if we want to secure the right to determine areas such as the economy, the environment and consumer protection, we cannot rely on the Westminster Government to protect our rights and we cannot stop a UK Government interfering in what are devolved matters. If we want to secure that protection, if we want to secure our rights, if we want to celebrate the joys we had of European membership from 1973 until now, we need to take the final steps.

Look at what has happened in this House this week: there has been the threat to the right to strike, the threat to democracy in Scotland yesterday, and the threat to the values and protections we have built over many years in the European Union. All are being swept away. This is a United Kingdom turning the clock back, moving backwards. We want to move forwards as a member of the European Union. That is why today we will push our amendments and reject this Bill.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

The measures in the Bill are wholly necessary and greatly welcome. The retention of EU law after our departure from the European Union was certainly necessary in order to maintain temporary legal equilibrium and avoid gaps in the UK’s statute book. However, as time has passed, it has become increasingly anomalous for the United Kingdom to have a large body of foreign-derived legislation that is accorded supremacy over our own domestic law.

After almost half a century of EU membership, the United Kingdom has automatically absorbed a vast amount of EU legislation, which was either directly imposed or created by domestic subordinate legislation. Much of that legislation is probably obsolete. It was telling that around 1,400 items of EU law that everyone had apparently forgotten about were recently discovered in the National Archives. It seems self-evident that those pieces of legislation could not possibly have been of much practical utility if everybody had forgotten about them, but despite the fact that those items of law had been forgotten, they continue to have special status in our domestic legal system. Not only do they have supremacy over our domestic legislation, but they are interpreted in accordance with the general principles of EU law, rather than those of our own indigenous systems. They are a kind of EU cuckoo in the nest of the common law and Scots law.

It appears there are in total about 3,800 items of retained EU law, and the Government are entirely right to have decided to review them as quickly as possible and remove or assimilate them as appropriate. Furthermore, the Government are right to set out an ambitious timetable for the completion of that exercise through the sunset provisions of clause 1. Amendment 36 would hamper that process. The sunset provisions of clause 1 are of course intended to encourage and incentivise Government Departments to press on quickly with the exercise of identifying and reviewing individual items of retained EU law that affect them. Those Departments will then make a decision as to whether those items of law should be revoked, pursuant to clause 1, or assimilated into the domestic legal system, pursuant to clause 6. That is an entirely sensible process, which will ensure that those items of retained EU law that are not revoked pursuant to clause 1 become subject to the ordinary processes of the domestic legal system. That will be beneficial to businesses and citizens in that the well-understood principles of common law or Scots law, with their nimbleness and certainty, will apply to assimilated law rather than the unpredictable purposive approach of the EU legal system.

The proponents of amendment 36 suggest that the clause 1 sunset procedures would somehow diminish the role of this House. However, the exercise of reviewing retained EU law, which will precede the automatic revocation through the clause 1 provisions, will be carried out by Ministers who are responsible and answerable to the House; it will not be a clandestine exercise carried out in secret. The Government dashboard contains a catalogue of retained EU law and will be constantly updated. There will therefore always be a visible, readily available snapshot of what law is to be subject to the sunset provisions. Those provisions are absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of the Bill. Without them, the process of regularising the domestic statute book would be significantly impeded. I am sure that is not what the amendment intends.

It is also important to note that the sunset provisions do not affect primary legislation implementing EU directives; they affect only direct EU law, which of course was imposed without any input from the House, and secondary legislation.

In the last few days, many hon. Members will have received campaign emails suggesting that valuable rights acquired under EU law will somehow be jeopardised by the Bill. The suggestion appears to be that they will be swept away under the sunset provisions as a consequence of the lack of intervention by ill-intentioned Ministers. That completely ignores the fact that, as many hon. Members have said, many rights enjoyed in this country, including those relating to employment, equality or the environment, are the product of domestic law, which exceed the provisions of EU law. It also ignores the fact that Ministers are always answerable to the House, and I have no doubt that Mr Speaker would be quick to allow urgent questions if there were real concern that important rights were to be prejudiced by the application of the sunset provisions. Of course, we have heard the undertakings that my hon. Friend the Minister has given from the Dispatch Box.

In short, clause 1 is an important provision that will restore the integrity of the domestic legal system. The sunset provisions will ensure that that happens swiftly and efficiently. Amendment 36 would significantly impede the process established by the clause and should therefore be rejected.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade) 4:45 pm, 18th January 2023

What is it about the Conservative party and its predilection for avoiding scrutiny in the House? It tried that during the withdrawal Act process, and even to some extent during the Australia and New Zealand free trade agreement debate. Now it is at it again. Of all the concerns that I and hundreds of my constituents have about the Bill, I will focus on a single, central topic: democracy and, specifically, how this legislation directly attacks the very system underpinning our democracy in Westminster.

Some might ask, “How could a Bill that repeals laws attack our democracy?” It is simple. The Bill gives huge and sweeping powers to Ministers to wipe out laws that already exist: important laws that govern everything from our rights at work to protections for our planet. This is not a party political issue—I see that many right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches have put their names to amendment 36, tabled by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy, which I will support along with those tabled by my Opposition Front-Bench colleagues.

As I stand here, I think back 250 years to a predecessor of mine, the hon. Member for Middlesex, John Wilkes, who is famous in Brentford for being the cause of the riot at the 1769 election hustings in the Butts in the centre of Brentford. It is a tree-lined square filled with elegant houses, many of which were probably standing then. John Wilkes was at first a radical journalist with a flair for words and a sharp tongue, but more importantly he fought for both the rights of parliamentarians and the rights of his electors. He stood up repeatedly for the rights of the majority of the electors in Middlesex, who sent him to Parliament as their representative. Despite Parliament repeatedly trying to exclude him, because of his locally popular but nationally unfashionable views, he was re-elected again and again, and Parliament kept trying to exclude him. Parliament won the battle to exclude him but not the war, and six years later he was again elected. In 1782, Parliament finally expunged the orders and resolutions it had passed to try to get rid of him.

Why do I speak about an election held 250 years ago, apart from grabbing for a constituency link in this debate? It relates to a simple and historical right—the right of our voters to elect Members to represent them in this House of Commons, where we vote on and scrutinise legislation. We have seen a remarkable number of changes since Wilkes’s time, and probably one of the most important is that the franchise eventually spread to all women and men. However, a constant is the right of Members of this House, not Government Ministers and their civil servants, to amend and change the law.

The laws that this Bill covers impact on our constituents every single day. We sit in this House not only to try to stop bad laws being passed, but to ensure that much-needed laws remain, such as laws that protect pregnant women from being sacked; laws that protect our planet from toxic chemicals; laws that protect vehicle occupants and other road users, and airline passengers; laws that provide regulatory certainty for business; and much more. Then there are all the laws that the Government are not currently aware of because they do not have a complete list. Yet this Bill removes this power from elected Members and passes powers directly to Ministers, and those powers turn Government Ministers into monarchs—monarchs of old—who are able to remove our laws at the stroke of a pen.

With this legislation we see a bonfire being stoked, on to which we know the Government wish to throw our hard-won rights in order to watch them burn. Tonight this House has a chance to reject this bonfire. I will be supporting amendments that protect these hard-won rights and these good laws, and will ensure that this House has the final say on those that need repealing, amending or keeping, not the petty monarchs on the Treasury Bench.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby

There has been a lot of discussion about democracy this afternoon. I would just point out that 70% of my constituents voted to leave the EU, and they did not realise then that six and a half years later we would still be having to have these conversations; that we would still be subject to EU law imposed on them with no democratic right to have any discussion in place; and—horror of horrors—that people in this place would be saying it may be at least 10 years until we can revoke or assimilate these laws. We need to make sure we are delivering for our constituents.

The discussions about this are just absolutely sad and appalling, because I have to say that the only argument the Opposition seem to be making is that there is a lot to do. Well, there really is a lot to do, and we need to get on with it. That should not be a reason for us not actually doing our jobs.

We do not want to be subject to EU laws for longer than we have to be. Our systems work differently, and we want to be a sovereign UK in which we know we are moving back to our own way of working in UK law and our court system.

I have to say, very sadly, that this seems to be “Project Fear 2”. Talking about bonfires and going to the edge of a cliff is a really irresponsible way of dealing with the issue. Our electorate want us to make sure we are getting on with the job. Opposition Members talk about Ministers acting as petty kings. Ministers are elected Members of Parliament who are subject to their own electorate and to us in this place. It is very regrettable that the Opposition talk in that way. The reality is that, when I am knocking on doors, people know that if the Labour party got into government, it would want to take us back into the EU in a heartbeat. Labour Members want this process to take as long as possible because they want to rescind the work that is being done. That is the reason why the Conservatives are in Government and why we have a very strong majority.

The Ministers have worked incredibly hard and have been incredibly clear, despite the tsunami of nonsense from the Opposition, and I will be supporting the Bill wholeheartedly.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

Alas, I am going to add to the tsunami of nonsense, as it was termed a moment ago.

I rise to speak to amendments 38 and 39, tabled in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I see the Minister is back in her place. I welcome her undertaking to me earlier that the dashboard of retained EU law will be updated to identify which legislation is reserved, which is devolved and how Welsh legislation might be affected. I look forward to seeing that in short order.

It is no wonder that we are debating amendments tabled by the SNP, the Alliance party and Plaid Cymru aimed at preventing the UK Government legislating in areas of devolved competencies. The UK Government have cut the Welsh Government out of post-EU funding schemes, rendered the Sewel convention almost valueless, and yesterday made it clear beyond any doubt that the Union is not a partnership of equals, when they vetoed legislation passed with overwhelming cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament.

The protections offered by amendments 28 to 30 and 37 to 39 are vital as it becomes clearer still that our rights are not safe under Westminster. The Government seek to undermine the democratic right to strike, the democratic right to peaceful protest, and the media’s ability to report matters of public interest and importance. And now before us we have this dangerous Bill threatening the rights and protections we gained as an EU member as fuel for their Brexit bonfire.

I add Plaid Cymru’s support for amendments 19 and 20, tabled by the Opposition, which would prevent the UK Government revoking vital protections for workers. In my view, the way to protect Welsh workers’ rights for good is to devolve employment law to enable the Welsh Government to legislate on a wide range of matters, but that is not quite in scope for this debate. It is important, however, given that the UK Government seem to have given up any pretence of doing so themselves. Instead, the Welsh Government are lumbered with the consequences of this impractical, dangerous, costly and wholly ideological legislation. The Counsel General for Wales, Mick Antoniw, has warned that the Bill could lead to the Welsh Government’s own legislative programme being almost completely overwhelmed, with significant financial and resource implications. And this at a time when our focus should be on supporting households and businesses struggling with cost of living pressures.

The Bill is an unwelcome, unnecessary and politically driven distraction. It risks reducing standards by allowing key pieces of legislation simply to lapse, placing even greater pressure on businesses who trade with the EU, while eventually and inevitably giving rise to a whole new batch of red tape. But we should worry not, of course, as that red tape will be true blue British red tape and beyond criticism!

I am happy to support amendment 36, which would require the Government to publish a list of the legislation being revoked by the sunset clause. That, at least, would simplify comprehensive scrutiny of the legislation affected and any further consequences. Unsurprisingly, the Government are baulking at it, either as a deliberate blocking tactic or—perhaps more likely—because of that special blend of arrogance and exceptionalism that got us into this position in the first place.

On Second Reading, I asked a question of the then Minister, Dean Russell, but unsurprisingly I got no answer. The Welsh Government say that they cannot advise the Senedd to grant legislative consent to the Bill at the moment. Can the present Minister tell us whether her colleagues in the other place will now address the Welsh Government’s request for “concurrent-plus” powers?

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 5:00 pm, 18th January 2023

I have concerns about the Bill in its current form. Those concerns are informed partly by the National Farmers Union, of which I am a member through the family farm of which I am a partner, but they also apply to all other sectors of the economy and to all means of protection and regulation, whether they relate to the environment, to consumers or to workers. They are concerns of practicality, not of principle, and are driven by a desire to improve the UK’s regulatory and legal framework after our departure from the EU.

My principal worry is that the requirement to revoke all EU legislation by the end of this year is unrealistic. Such a sudden sunset clause sets a framework for bad and hasty lawmaking, although I acknowledge that the Bill makes provision for the deadline to be extended in certain circumstances.

Let me make some brief observations. Nearly seven years after the referendum, it is right that this process is finally being legislated for. There are many aspects of the law that require improvement and reform, but that needs to be carried out in a considered, not rushed, manner, with a proper review process set out and with full consultation.

The scale of the task, given the timescale proposed, is enormous. There is real worry about whether Departments such as DEFRA have the capacity to carry out the work, or whether other important work, of which there is much in these challenging times, will be given a lower priority as an unintended consequence. DEFRA alone has approximately 600 pieces of legislation to go through, and there may well be regulations of which it is unaware. A rash striking out of all laws by a set date could leave gaps in the law and the regulatory framework.

We should keep in mind the implications for the Government Legal Profession, in which morale is already low. A recent survey found that a third of its staff want to leave within a year. As well as the possible environmental and consumer protection risks that might inadvertently be created, there is also a worry that there will be a negative impact from a business perspective, with attention being diverted, uncertainty created and investment decisions delayed or cancelled.

In conclusion, I am worried that the Bill appears to be a continuation of the approach that has been adopted since Brexit: a rush, with no considered long-term plan in place, to carry out work such as agreeing trade deals that justify Brexit. We seem to be striving for quantity rather than quality. We are in danger of losing sight of what should be our ultimate objective: to put better arrangements in place than we had when we were in the EU. I fear that in its present form the Bill puts that aim at risk. I hope that in the Minister’s winding-up speech and in the other place, the Government will allay my concerns. They would do well to adopt the four-point improvement plan that my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford, who is not in her place, set out earlier in the debate.

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead

Less than 48 hours after we stood in this House to defend the right to strike, my hon. Friends and I find ourselves once more having to stand up to protect our constituents’ most basic rights. The right to holiday pay, working time regulations, data protection rights, and countless vital environmental and consumer protections have all been carried over from European law. These were not given to us as an act of benevolence by Brussels; they were hard fought for by trade unionists and activists working across Europe, and now they are all at risk as a result of the proposals that the Government have put to the House today.

In 2016, my constituents voted narrowly to leave the EU. They had many reasons for voting as they did, and I have always argued that their will should be respected, but not a single one of them voted for the kind of chaos that Ministers are preparing to let loose today. This is a colossal undertaking, far larger than the Minister seems to realise. The Government have failed to provide an exhaustive list of all the retained law that they are preparing to sweep from the statute books, but experts are warning that nearly 4,000 pieces of legislation could be affected. In order to make this act of legislative vandalism possible, the Secretary of State is proposing to give himself unprecedented powers to repeal and rewrite laws and regulations governing almost every aspect of our lives, with almost no scrutiny and with no guarantees as to what will replace them.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade Team Member), Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, International Trade Committee

Industry bodies are currently concerned about the divergence of regulation, which is a divergence over time, because the UK is not keeping up. Will the Bill not make the exporting situation and the economic situation in the UK a lot worse?

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead

The hon. Member has made a good point. There is no doubt that this will cause an absolute divergence.

It is ironic that a party that has so often argued that power should reside in this House and not in Brussels, or even in the democratically elected Parliament of Scotland and the Welsh Senedd, is now attempting to cut MPs out of the legislative process entirely. The Bill represents a power grab on the part of the Executive of a kind almost unheard of in a parliamentary democracy. That is why I am so grateful to my hon. Friend Stella Creasy for tabling amendment 36. It guarantees Members of this House their right to oversee what will undoubtedly be an extraordinarily complex and lengthy process, and it reaffirms a principle that is so fundamental to this country’s constitution: that laws should be made in this House in the full view of the public, and not cooked up by Ministers using obscure parliamentary procedure.

I have listened closely to the arguments advanced by Conservative Members, and I have yet to hear a single convincing case for why the Government should proceed with this Bill. For many of my constituents, every day is a struggle. They desperately need to see action to boost wages, tackle the scourge of fuel poverty, and support the NHS through the worst crisis in its long history. Instead, the Government are deciding to waste precious time and resources on this needless, reckless, and utterly ill-considered shake-up of the law. On this, as on so much else, this Government have their priorities all wrong.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

It is interesting to hear some Members go on about how retained EU law has a special status in UK law. It is only special because the UK says it is; for everyone else, it is just “the law”. Yes, it has been inherited from our time in the EU, but that was the point of incorporating it in the first place, and now it governs and regulates thousands of aspects of our daily lives, and, as we have heard from a number of Members, protects a great many of our hard-won rights and freedoms.

It is a contradiction to say that this Bill, particularly or uniquely, somehow asserts or reasserts parliamentary sovereignty. Every Bill passed in this House asserts parliamentary sovereignty, even for those of us who believe in popular sovereignty. That is the point. As my hon. Friend Alyn Smith said at the start of the debate a long time ago, there is not a single law, regulation or rule in the corpus of retained EU law that the Government, through this House, could not repeal, replace or reform at any time of their choosing through primary legislation.

In her opening speech, the Minister herself reeled off all the great Brexit Bills and Acts that Parliament has already passed. That proves the point that we do not need the powers in this Bill, and we certainly do not need the sunset clauses and cliff edges that it establishes. The Bill reveals contempt for parliamentary sovereignty—a massive power grab from this House and the devolved institutions, and unprecedented power placed in the hands of Ministers and the Whitehall mandarins who have simply stepped in to replace the Brussels bureaucrats so hated by the ERG and their Brexiteer friends.

If the Government genuinely believed in parliamentary sovereignty and the devolution settlement, they would accept the amendments tabled. They would pay particular attention to amendment 36, as everyone has remarked and several of their Back Benchers have signed. Many constituents in Glasgow North—in which, incidentally, 78% voted to remain in the European Union; I make no apology for standing up for their views—have told me that they believe the amendment will offer at least some degree of protection from the bonfire of rights and freedoms that this Bill represents.

The Government could admit that the game is up and that there is no prospect of seriously reviewing the thousands of regulations that make up EU retained law by the end of this year. They could accept SNP amendment 33 to drop the sunset clause altogether. At the very least, they could accept amendments 28 to 31, which would protect the powers of Scotland’s Parliament and Government to legislate in areas that were already supposed to be devolved under the terms of the Scotland Act. They say there is no power grab, but they have grabbed powers that should have come from Brussels directly to the Scottish Parliament.

But the Government will do none of those things. They will press ahead with the fantasy that this Bill is necessary in the first place, and that its aims are achievable within the timescale set out. It is perhaps ironic that in “Star Trek” there was an evil race called the Borg who would come to assimilate entire planets and civilisations into their collective consciousness. That is how the Brexiteers viewed the European Union. Now, it is the Government who want EU retained law to be renamed “assimilated law” on the statute book. Nothing else will change and the effect of the laws will be the same, but references to the hated European Union will have been purged. What a huge achievement.

Unlike the Borg or the UK Government, it is the EU laws that have protected and enhanced our liberties, freedoms and basic health and safety in these islands over the past 40 years. This Bill, and the Government’s refusal to accept any amendments this evening, expose the Government’s true agenda. By scrapping retained EU law, they want to create a race to the bottom, a buyer-beware, survival-of-the-fittest economy that pays minimal regard to democratic oversight and even less to the welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable. That was the Brexiteers’ agenda all along: stuff the consequences playing out in society and the economy all around us.

Once again, with a rather heavy dose of irony, it will fall to the unelected House of Lords to stand up for democracy and against the worst excesses of this Tory Government. The Government will come back after the Lords have dealt with this Bill with their tail between their legs, admitting that what they proposed was never viable in the first place. For people in Scotland, there is another option—a route out of this Tory madness and back into the partnership, community and mutual respect of the European Union. That is the popular sovereignty that comes with independence.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I congratulate the hon. Member on his reference to “Star Trek” on Report. At least he referred to the amendments as well.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

Through this pernicious piece of legislation the Government seek to give themselves the power to scrap a whole host of legal protections that we currently enjoy, including hard-won employment rights and environmental protections. Through the Bill, a sunset provision will be placed on retained EU law, causing the vast majority of it to expire at the end of 2023. It could apply to more than 2,400 pieces of legislation. Indeed, reports suggest that the figure could be as high as 4,000.

The laws in question cover areas including environmental protection, food safety, civil aviation codes, health and safety in the workplace, employment law, parental leave, intellectual property, product safety, biosecurity, private pension protections, vehicle standards and noise pollution. The very idea that the Government should give themselves the power to discard such a large amount of legislation is shocking indeed. Decisions about UK law should be made in Parliament, not by Ministers. I therefore support amendment 36, which would require the Government to publish an exhaustive list of every piece of legislation being revoked under the sunset clause in the Bill and which would give the House of Commons the ultimate say on which legislation is affected. This would take power out of the hands of Ministers and provide transparency.

The TUC has highlighted that rights that could be lost through the Bill include rights relating to holiday pay, agency workers, pregnant workers, maternity and parental leave and terms and conditions for workers whose employment is transferred to another employer, so I support amendments 19 and 20, which seek to safeguard protections for workers, because it is vital that we protect workers’ rights.

The Bill also puts environmental protections in peril, and I support amendments 21 and 22, which seek to address this. The Wildlife Trust has expressed profound concern that the Bill risks weakening vital protections for nature when more than ever we need stronger legislation and urgent action to reverse the decline in biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Greener UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link have expressed the opinion that the Bill will derail the Government’s nature and climate ambitions. The Government should be listening to these views from the sector, but clearly they are not. By their actions, the Conservatives are making a mockery of their own manifesto commitment that Britain would have

“the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.”

It is extraordinary that the scope of the Bill includes giving Ministers the right to scrap a wide range of legal protections relating to health and safety, including the regulation of the safety of children’s toys and of electrical equipment and the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. I support amendments 24 and 25, which seek to safeguard these laws. Asbestos is an extremely dangerous substance and it is a matter of real concern that the Government might seek to water down control of it. I pay tribute to the work of the Merseyside Asbestos Victim Support Group and the wider support group forum for the vital work they do in supporting victims of asbestos. Previously, when I asked the Government whether they had made an assessment of the potential impact of this Bill on asbestos-related legislation, their response was vague and talked of removing disproportionate burdens for business and simplifying the regulatory landscape. That is a matter of real concern. I am extremely concerned about what deregulation could mean in relation to asbestos, and I ask the Minister today for a guarantee that controls on asbestos will not in any circumstances be weakened.

It is shocking that the report by the Regulatory Policy Committee gave the Government’s impact assessment of this Bill an overall red rating, meaning that the impact assessment is not fit for purpose because it has made no attempt to quantify the impacts of the individual pieces of legislation being sunsetted and no commitment has been made to do this later in the process. This Bill is an incredibly damaging piece of legislation that poses an enormous threat to many of the rights on which we rely. I urge Members to support the amendments that would remove the worst aspects of it, but ultimately I call on the Government to withdraw it.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 5:15 pm, 18th January 2023

I rise to speak in support of amendments 21 and 36. Losing environmental protections was a major concern for all of us who opposed Brexit. The majority of my Bath constituents and I feared that Brexit would prove a colossal mistake. At the time, our fears were branded as scaremongering, yet this Conservative Government are clearly prepared to let environmental protections fall on the bonfire of regulations. The sheer volume of retained EU law instruments means that there is now a huge danger that many will fall automatically if they are not amended or identified in time.

This is reckless lawmaking, legislating with hammer blows instead of following the evidence. The December deadline is totally unnecessary. It is clearly unrealistic to replace all this legislation by the end of the year. There are currently only three full-time equivalent staff working on retained EU law in DEFRA. How can the Government expect them to cope with this enormous workload, and what is the rush? I have heard many Conservative Members today saying, “We don’t want to be subjected to laws made in the EU.” May I gently remind them that these laws were our laws? They became our laws by which we lived our lives for decades. Pulling them from under our feet without a transparent process to replace them is the most undemocratic proposal I can think of.

Amendment 21 would exempt certain environmental protections from the sunset clause. Nature provides a better chance of mitigating the worst impacts of climate change. Protecting ecosystems that regulate the climate or contain critical carbon stores must be prioritised alongside cutting emissions. This is not just about the EU; it is about a Government not caring about net zero. It is crucial that these protections are not allowed to fall needlessly to prove an ideological point. Amendment 21 would at least protect legislation such as the National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2018. These regulations require the Secretary of State to prepare an annual inventory of emissions and air pollutants, which are killers. It is about our health. The Government are frustrating every step towards a healthier planet and healthier people.

Amendment 36 would require the Government to publish a list of every piece of legislation that is being revoked under the sunset clause and to allow parliamentary oversight of that process. If the Conservatives believe in parliamentary democracy, what could possibly be preventing them from supporting this amendment?

There is huge public interest in our environmental laws. I have received hundreds of emails about this Bill from my Bath constituents, but I feel my constituents are being ignored. Amendment 36 would also provide much-needed clarity on the legislation that will be affected. Many clauses in this Bill will make settled areas of law uncertain and contested. How can we meet our net zero targets if we do not even know what environmental legislation will be standing this time next year?

There will be no coming back and no next time if we miss our net zero targets. For that reason alone, it is important to support amendment 36. Shamefully, our Government are satisfied to leave environmental protections to chance. They are intent on getting Brexit done without any idea of the cost to current and future generations.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

We have two more Back-Bench contributions, and then we will move on to the wind-ups. I advise Members who have taken part in the debate to make their way to the Chamber.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

This is the second shameful bit of legislation the House has seen this week, the first being the Bill that will sack nurses for striking to feed their family.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill risks a bonfire of fundamental rights and protections, both at work and for the environment, that have evolved over our 47 years in the EU. I say that because the Bill will get civil servants to look at all the thousands of laws, rules, rights and protections by the end of the year and to decide either to abolish them, to change them—not specifically to improve them, because this Bill is deregulatory —or to continue them. If the civil servants do not have time, the laws, rules, rights and protections will end by default.

Various protections and rights are likely to fall out of bed because civil servants do not have enough time to look at them. Of course, 100,000 civil servants are now going on strike, and 80% of these laws are in DEFRA, which has only three people looking at retained EU law. There are currently enough problems in DEFRA, including the sewage being pumped out along our coasts and rivers where we used to have so-called EU blue beaches. There are air quality problems, with 63,000 people dying prematurely each year at a cost of £20 billion. Of course, the EU wants to get to the World Health Organisation target of 10 micrograms per cubic metre by 2030, but we will leave it until 2040. The Minister’s assurance that we will do as well or better than the EU is farcical.

One in four people in Britain is in food poverty, and we do not have enough people to pick the fruit or butcher the meat. We cannot export to the EU, and half of businesses are now no longer exporting to the EU. Millions of crabs, lobsters and prawns are dying from pollution off the north-east coast. People in DEFRA have enough to do without being distracted by looking through every bit of legislation and deciding whether to change, continue or abolish it, which is frankly ridiculous. They have enough on their plate—sadly not north-east crab.

The abolition of rights by default is a major risk that will come back to haunt us all, whether on rights at work, environmental rights or other rights. The other key issue, obviously, is the loss of democratic control. We were told that we would take back control, but this Bill gives all the power to Ministers and civil servants. They will look at 47 years of legislation and decide which bits to cherry-pick, which bits to forget and which bits to inadvertently drop. That is not democratic. This is not democratic and it is not what people voted for. Furthermore, it is going to be snatching from the devolutionary settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We saw the instincts of the Government only yesterday, as we did on the sacking of strikers, the stopping of protests and the introduction of photo ID. Those things all show the sort of Government we have and whether we can trust them with this issue—obviously, we cannot.

Finally, this Bill is an attempt to have divergence for the sake of it. I am proud to be the trade rapporteur for the Council of Europe, charged with embedding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and sustainable development into international trade agreements. That requires our coming together over a set of rules to protect our fundamental values and our environmental future, but this Bill does the opposite. As has been pointed out, it will have the impact of reducing the amount of trade that stimulates our economy. Altogether, this is a farcical rush to wave a banner of “Taking back control”, but underneath is the pirate ship with a flag of, “Let’s take control from you, do what we want and destroy your rights and protections.” Therefore, this will make the economic crisis even worse than it is already. What we want is not a weaker, poorer, dirtier Britain, which is what this Bill and others will bring about. We want a stronger, fairer, greener future, which will happen only with a Labour Government.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I know that Christmas was a few weeks ago, but here is a late present: I am not putting the clock on you, Mr Rodda, so if your speech is over six minutes, so be it.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am a lucky man.

I wish to speak about a number of amendments. First, I strongly support amendment 36, which calls on the Government to publish a list of the laws affected by the Bill. I also offer my support to amendments 18 and 19, which give more time for proper debate and protect workers’ rights; amendments 21 and 22, on the environment; and a number of others mentioned by the Opposition Front-Bench team.

This is clearly an important Bill. It covers a large number of laws across a wide range of policy areas, including protections for workers’ rights, the environment and the consumer. As the Minister said, the Bill deals with laws covering some 300 different policy areas across government. I followed her speech carefully and with great interest, and noted that she was not able to say how many pieces of law the Bill affects. That is highly important for the debate today; the Government plan to remove all this EU law, even though they do not fully understand the full list of laws, by the end of this year. They are proposing enormous changes, yet they do not even know the full scale of the change involved. As we have heard, the Law Society describe the Government’s approach as having a

“devastating impact on legal certainty”.

To make matters worse, the Government plan to give themselves sweeping powers to push through these changes. Ministers will be given the power to use the negative statutory instrument procedure to address such important and controversial issues, with the result that workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer rights could all be changed with barely any scrutiny. Even at this late stage, I ask the Government to reconsider that reckless approach. I hope the Minister will have time to respond to the concerns raised. I hope she will listen and take the views from across the House back to her ministerial colleagues.

I also hope the Minister will take on board the deep concerns felt by people across the country. Like other Members, I have received a large number of emails on this important issue. I have been contacted by a range of organisations as diverse as the TUC, the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Rivers Trust, the British Safety Council, the Angling Trust, Unison and the Institute of Directors. That is a formidable list of civil society organisations, so I hope that she will consider the interesting points they make about this Bill.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I very much appreciate my belated Christmas present, but I realise that time is pressing on. To conclude, the Bill is clearly deeply flawed, and I ask the Minister again to listen to the points made by Members from across the House and take them back to her colleagues.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

I am just trying to squeeze a bit more out of Mr Deputy Speaker’s kind gift. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need a guarantee from the Minister today that there will be no watering down of asbestos controls?

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 5:30 pm, 18th January 2023

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I have worked with asbestos campaigners in my own area in Berkshire. I have met them and listened to some of the stories about asbestos pollution and the effects on workers, families and other individuals who, sadly, came into contact with asbestos. She has made an excellent point, so I hope that the Minister will take that on board and take it back to her colleagues. That is one powerful example of the wide range of difficult issues addressed by the Bill and the practical problems in trying to cover such a broad range of policy areas in this way. I hope that the Minister will take that back and ask the Government as a whole to reconsider—

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I am conscious of time and, given that I have allowed one intervention, I should now conclude.

Again, I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me some extra time and my hon. Friend Margaret Greenwood for making the worthy point about asbestos. I hope that the Minister will take that point back, and, indeed, the wide range of other points made today by Members from across the House.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank everybody for their contributions, which have been measured and passionate. Many important points have been raised and I shall do my best to respond to as many as I can.

We have had quite a long list of speakers: the hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for Stirling (Alyn Smith); Hilary Benn; the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous); Ian Blackford; the hon. Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for Arfon (Hywel Williams), for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for Reading East (Matt Rodda), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), and for Bath (Wera Hobhouse).

We also heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Sir William Cash), for Watford (Dean Russell), and for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker); my right hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), and for Clwyd West (Mr Jones); my hon. Friends the Members for Yeovil (Mr Fysh), for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), and for Waveney (Peter Aldous). I will try my best to respond to as many issues raised as I can.

Obviously, I am here to support the Government’s amendments, and I will go through in detail the amendments tabled by the Opposition. They fundamentally misunderstand that this is an enabling Bill, or they are deliberately trying to delay, deny or dilute what we are trying to achieve, which is, basically, delivering the Brexit that we promised the public: the promise that we would free ourselves from EU law and make UK law sovereign. Laws and regulations that manage our lives should be rooted here in this country and that is a law that should be supreme. Fundamentally, that is what we are trying to achieve.

Much has been said about the dashboard. I should be clear: at the moment, the figure we have identified and verified for EU law is 3,200 and we expect it to be 4,000. So it is what we were expecting and the dashboard will be updated. As I said earlier, officials have been working for more than 18 months and they will continue to work with officials across all Departments and with officials in devolved authorities.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade Team Member), Chair, International Trade Committee, Chair, International Trade Committee

We know that Brexit has damaged the UK’s GDP, but has any assessment been made—I have spoken to industry bodies, particularly those involved in exporting—of potential damage from the divergence of regulations? Have industry bodies been consulted, or has an assessment been made of the damage to the UK’s GDP from this Bill? I imagine that it is going to be considerable.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The report today said, in contrast to the hon. Member’s comment, that we are one of the top countries to invest in globally. I am anxious to hear where he thinks the damage is being done.

I wish to address some of the amendments that misinterpret what the Bill does when it comes to workers’ rights. Workers’ rights are often rooted in UK law—they often started here, not in the EU—and the UK Government will not abandon our strong record on workers’ rights. We have some of the highest standards in the world. Why would we change that, if we started it and campaigned for it? In many areas, our workers’ rights are much stronger than those in the EU.

We have talked about maternity leave, maternity rights, flexible working, annual leave and the national living wage: all those things started here. Amendments that propose a carve-out for workers’ rights, which are not under threat because they started here, are a bit absurd.

Comments were made about product safety. The Government are committed to protecting consumers from unsafe products being placed on the market now and in the future. Of course that would be the way we do business. We are finalising a consultation setting out the next steps in delivering the Government’s ambitions for a new product safety framework. Our proposals include changes to save time and money for business.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

On product safety, and specifically on asbestos, since it has been raised, the Minister will know that the precautionary principle means that chemicals that may be hazardous must be proven by the manufacturer to be safe. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency must prove they are hazardous, otherwise they can be sold—hence asbestos is sold in bricks in America. Can the Minister guarantee that there will be no shift to the American regime, which puts the onus on the Environmental Protection Agency and not the manufacturer? If there is, we will all be at risk of asbestos.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

That is why we are going through EU legislation—to identify that and to make those decisions. I will respond to the hon. Gentleman’s point directly, but in his speech he mentioned his time at the European Council, and I believe that when he was there—

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The Council of Europe, forgive me. When he was there recently, the hon. Gentleman was open in saying that, when a Labour Government are in power, they will return us to the EU. If that is his motivation, I understand why he makes these points—

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

I withdraw that. It is untrue.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Does the Minister wish to take an intervention? No. Okay. The hon. Gentleman has withdrawn what he said. Thank you.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

If his remark had not been withdrawn, I would have read out the quotation.

To return to hazardous substances, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, within their respective territories, will follow the usual procedures but take into account the principles set out in the hazardous substances common framework. Part of the process we are going through is identifying what the laws are so that we can take a decision.

On animal welfare, there has been a lot of mis-information. Especially since 2010, we have regulated for chickens, battery cages, mandatory CCTV in slaughter-houses, mandatory microchipping in dogs—a huge amount of work has been done.

When it comes to the environment, many of our standards started here, and we should be proud of them. We have the world-leading Environment Act, which has dramatically strengthened environmental regulations. Moreover, the EU model has not stopped the decline in our natural world. Of course there is much more that we need to do, and we will: we have our own legally binding targets, we are committed to halting the decline in nature by 2030 and we are among the first countries in the world to commit to net zero by 2050.

A point was raised about flight compensation. The Department for Transport published the aviation consumer policy reform consultation back in 2022, and the proposals will look into aviation consumer protection, redress for breaches of consumer rights and reform to compensation for delays or for damaged wheelchairs and other mobility equipment. When I was a Minister at the Department for Transport, we went much further than our European counterparts in ensuring protection for the most vulnerable people.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The Minister is setting out a number of laws, and she has just said on the record that she has verified 3,200 pieces of legislation. The dashboard still says 2,400, and she says the ultimate number will be 4,000. Can she just clarify that she is asking us today to vote for her Ministers to have power over 1,600 undefined, un-public pieces of regulation? She is shaking her head, but that is the maths, and she has to be open with people about what is at stake with this legislation. Is it 1,600 pieces that are missing, or is the number higher or lower?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The dashboard will always be updated as new EU law is being discovered. The fact that it has to be discovered and that we need to go and identify it tells us that there is a problem. We have verified a substantial amount. It could be up to 4,000 laws, but this gives each Department time to assess, amend, assimilate or revoke.

On new clause 1, the sunset is a fundamental aspect of the Bill. The sunset date of 31 December 2023 was chosen to incentivise and accelerate a programme of reform that is well under way. Although 2023 may be an ambitious deadline, it has been years since we voted in favour of leaving the EU, as colleagues across the House have noted, so it is absolutely right for our constituents to expect us to be able to remove outdated laws in that time. There is also an extension, up to 2026, if Departments need more time to consult and take decisions on the EU laws that they wish to amend or repeal. That has always been in the Bill. To deliver those reforms, each Department will take its own view on how to prioritise and timetable pieces of REUL to ensure delivery before the sunset date. The Government will ensure that that work is appropriately resourced.

The criticism about the Bill enshrining a race to the bottom is just incorrect. We have sought to ensure that the powers to revoke or replace cannot be used to add to the overall regulatory burden for any particular subject area, but they do not preclude the introduction of higher standards. That will help to ensure that the UK takes a more modern, agile and proportionate approach to making regulations, and establishes a more nimble, innovative and UK-specific regulatory approach to go further and faster and in seizing the opportunities of Brexit.

On the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley, the Government will ensure the continued functioning of the intellectual property framework, given its importance both in underpinning investment and in supporting international trade. We recognise the importance attached to stability and certainty in the area of intellectual property. Those will be prominent considerations for the Government when making decisions on REUL in this area.

Suggestions that we have delivered, or will deliver, a bonfire of workers’ rights are absolutely inaccurate. As I mentioned earlier, we are proud of the UK’s excellent record on labour standards. We have the best workers’ rights record in the world, and our high standards were never dependent on our membership of the EU. Indeed, the UK provides stronger protections for workers than those required by EU law. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset for setting out that Parliament has been legislating to protect workers’ rights for hundreds of years.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

The truth is that we would have the power to do exactly as the Minister said and to introduce improved regulation where necessary and in our national interest, but that power would rest here in this House and with our Government, who are accountable to this Parliament. That is the difference; it is as simple as that. To claim anything else is a thinly veiled deception.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My right hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. We are elected to govern. Of course, it will take some work, but the outcome is that we can take the decisions here. Whether we choose to take those decisions, are anxious about taking decisions, or do not even want to know what these EU laws are—that is just a very ignorant way to be—we need to be aware so that we can take those decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney talked about 2023 being a cliff edge. That is the time by which we wish to sunset, but there is an extension to 2026 for the bits of EU law for which Departments need more time to consult. The process has already been around for 18 months, and it has been and will continue to be considered. Department officials will continue to work together on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby spoke about her constituents’ concerns and anxieties about the Labour party doing everything it can to take us back into the EU. There has been a lot of fearmongering from the Labour party in the amendments that it has tabled, but in this instance, I would argue that maybe her constituents should be afraid, as I am told that the Labour leader has attempted to block Brexit at least 48 times.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Does my hon. Friend, in the light of what she has just said, recall “Project Fear”, with George Osborne and others saying, for example, how many hundreds of thousands of unemployed we would have, how the financial markets would dissolve, how the City of London would become a ghost town, and all that sort of nonsense? Does she remember all that, and where are we now?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 5:45 pm, 18th January 2023

I would be giving away my age if I said I do remember it well. Fortunately, not all of that has come to pass, but I worry that my age is out there. I must thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West for his fantastic work in Committee. He very sensibly talked about how we have absorbed EU legislation. Some of it is obsolete, and some being discovered by the National Archives is also obsolete. It is absolutely right that we have an exercise to identify and assess what is fit for our country.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

One of the key things here is looking at red tape that is unnecessary for small businesses. I am a great believer that businesses should focus on transforming their business and not just filling out forms. Does the Minister agree?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My hon. Friend, who was a fantastic Minister in the Department and led earlier consideration of the Bill, hits the nail on the head once again. We have an opportunity to look at regulation to see whether there is a way we can streamline it to make it even more easy for business to do business—it is as simple as that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings gave a fantastic speech, in which he talked about how we have surrendered our parliamentary authority and lawmaking to Brussels, but the people’s will means that we need to ensure that we are delivering laws and regulations here in the UK Parliament. That is what our constituents have empowered us to do. They want to be living under British law, and that is what the Bill delivers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil talked about this Bill being overdue and, boy, how many years will we spend discussing Brexit? I agree that the Bill is overdue. It is absolutely right that we have precision and certainty and that responsibility is best placed here in UK law, not in European law with European judges.

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford made a splendid speech—he was also splendid at the Dispatch Box when he was leading the Bill—once again standing up for small business, and his assessment is absolutely right: there are many opportunities if we are able to deregulate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset once again thanked all the civil servants working on the programme, and I must thank him for all the tremendous work he has done on the Bill. He spoke about having a base and principles within UK law, and how we should not be relying on EU law and how EU law should not be supreme over UK law. There is nothing to fear in having UK law sovereign. We are somehow going to have to pull this plaster off, and this is obviously the time to do it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford talked about her experience of consumer legislation, which I mentioned earlier, and I am more than happy to discuss that with her when the time allows.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Can my hon. Friend confirm that businesses will get notice of which laws will drop away at the end of this year and that Ministers will not be fearful of using the extension if necessary? Can she confirm that Ministers will look at all consumer legislation to make sure that none of it is inadvertently dropped?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Most consumer legislation is based in UK law, but officials are working with Departments, and they will be taking decisions about what they will assimilate, amend and revoke.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I must make some progress; I am worried about time running out. I must also speak in particular to amendment 36, mostly because my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, who chairs the European Statutory Instruments Committee, made some fantastic interventions. The amendment states that we need greater transparency on how the process will continue. There are opportunities to be on Committees and to scrutinise legislation, but my hon. Friend made it clear that Labour MPs have not even turned up to take their places on the European Statutory Instruments Committee.

EU law that will be amended or repealed will go through the usual channels. Business managers and the Leaders of both Houses will take decisions. The European Statutory Instruments Committee will be involved, and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee will be involved in the House of Lords, and we have the dashboard. Nothing could be more transparent, and it will involve colleagues from across the House.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford mentioned consumer rights. I want to put on the record that core consumer protections, as set out in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Consumer Protection Act 1987, will continue to apply and remain unaffected. Furthermore, I reiterate my commitment that the dashboard, as I said earlier, will be published this month.

Turning to devolution, the Government recognise the importance of ensuring that the Bill is consistent with the devolved arrangements and remain committed to respecting the devolution settlement and the Sewel convention. The Bill will allow the devolved authorities to look at devolved law and take a decision on what they wish to assimilate, amend or revoke—decisions that they never had when we were a member of the EU. I would hope that those authorities would embrace that with both hands, not reject it.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I am reluctant to give way, because the intervention will end up being, “But we just don’t want to be here.” If it is on a different topic, I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

Will the Minister respect the right of the Scottish Parliament not to give consent to this Bill?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I find this extraordinary. The devolved authorities have the right to make decisions on devolved laws. Why would that not be embraced, instead of being rejected?

I must comment on the Bar Council’s evidence. Barrister Tom Sharpe KC noted that the Bar Council

“is our trade union, and it does not speak on my behalf on this political matter…obviously”.––[Official Report, Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Public Bill Committee, 8 November 2022; c. 24, Q43.]

An issue about deregulation was raised. It is not enshrined in any of the clauses, but the Bill says that overall burdens must be reduced.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

I have been involved in European policymaking over a period of about 20 years, including being Europe editor of The Times. Something that struck me is that it is very difficult to get agreement between 27 or 28 countries, so once a law is passed it is almost impossible to change. EU laws get frozen in time and things move on. With EU laws stagnant across the economy, does the Minister think it is right that EU laws should be reviewed across the entire economy, in all different sectors?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

That is what the Bill proposes, so that we are not stuck in time with EU laws made elsewhere.

This is the Parliament of one of the oldest continuous representative democracies in the world, of which the UK is rightly proud. The Bill will restore Acts of Parliament as the highest law of the land by ensuring that domestic law will take precedence over retained direct EU law. This is all part of what the British public voted for in the referendum and the general election—for Britain to be left to do things differently and to be the supreme arbiter of our own laws. That is all that this Bill is proposing.

To conclude, the Bill will allow the United Kingdom to take the next steps in reasserting the sovereignty of Parliament. It will end the special status of retained EU law in the UK statute book and enable the Government more easily to amend, revoke and replace retained EU law, and to seize the opportunities of Brexit. I therefore ask hon. Members to support the Government’s amendments, withdraw their own amendments and support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.