– in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 24th May 2023.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Bim Afolami, who spoke very wisely. I apologise to the House for not having been here throughout. I have been attending the Speaker’s Conference, and the Speaker gave give me permission to leave the Chamber for part of the debate.
I would like to focus on just one aspect of the Bill, which has attracted much comment, and that is democratic oversight. There has been some comment that, under the Bill, Ministers will be able to make changes to legislation without any form of scrutiny. That is not the case, but that misinformation seems to have been widely distributed.
There has been significant scrutiny of legislative changes post Brexit, and that scrutiny will continue with this Bill. One part of that scrutiny has been delivered by the European Statutory Instruments Committee. I am most familiar with the working of that Committee, because for the last few years I have chaired it. Our work is not widely known, so I thought it would be helpful if I quickly mentioned the procedure we have used. Obviously, I am not detailing it for colleagues, who will all know it, but for those following the debate, for whom it might be slightly less familiar.
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that it is rather ironic—given that some people have argued against Ministers being given these powers, because they could, without scrutiny, reduce the standards of environmental, employee and consumer protection—that the Deputy Speaker has just announced that Royal Assent has been given to three Acts that were designed to protect workers’ rights? Does that not give the lie to the idea that this Bill is all about reducing standards?
In that insight, the right hon. Gentleman is as wise as ever. There is no intention whatever of rolling back environmental protection or rights that have been hard won. The Government are building on those and seeking to leave a much better nation in environmental terms than the one we found. The right hon. Gentleman is clearly right, and he echoes comments made by other colleagues in the debate.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about workers’ rights, but these were private Members’ Bills, one of which was brought forward by my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald in the absence of a Bill from the UK Government on workers’ rights. Does the hon. Gentleman not therefore agree that the Government could be doing a lot more to give a sense of trust about this process?
The obvious point is that private Members’ Bills cannot proceed unless the Government support them. If the hon. Lady thinks that she is the arbiter of all that is true and righteous, she might be wrong—much of that is on the Government Benches.
When Ministers wish to make legislative changes, they choose whether to use the negative or the affirmative procedure. If it is the affirmative procedure, that automatically requires parliamentary scrutiny through a Committee of this House, which will consider the measure and, if necessary, vote on it. If the negative procedure is chosen, however, the legislation comes to us in the European Statutory Instruments Committee, and we consider which of the two procedures is appropriate. We have determined criteria which we apply when making that judgment. We consider whether the legislation is very technical in nature, the extent and the scope, and any legal concerns. We assess whether there is any political importance, and if so, how much political importance there is.
I recognise that this is obscure and perhaps a little dry, but the key point I am making is that a Committee of MPs reviews every proposal. That means there is democratic and parliamentary oversight, and it will continue. May I quantify this briefly? So far we have considered 317 instruments since the Committee was established, and we have upgraded 18% of them from the proposed negative procedure to the affirmative. Our Committee has received a letter from the Leader of the House proposing that
“your Committee take on the role of making these ‘sifting’ recommendations in the House of Commons, as it has in the recent past for SIs”.
Every member of the Committee has received a copy of that letter.
I recognise that there are further points to be considered about the extent to which we will need to debate SIs in the future and whether they could be made amendable, but those are longer-term considerations for the House as a whole. We must be careful to ensure that people do not use a broader debate about our procedures to try to delay the Bill and any of its potential consequences. My point is really about democratic oversight. It has existed and it is continuing to exist, and we know which Committee will be carrying it out, which is a positive development.
I want to say a few words, very gently, to Jonathan Reynolds, who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.
I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon.
As our Committee is gearing up for the consideration, may I point out that the Labour party has not taken up its places? We regularly meet when there is no Labour representation. We publish our attendance records, and I have just been looking at one of them. I see “zero attendance, zero attendance, zero attendance”. I fully recognise that it is not easy for colleagues to get to every event, and there are many reasons why Labour members of the Committee cannot always join us. I am not criticising those who have been nominated, because they have other things to do, and indeed we have gone out of our way to highlight that in the attendance records. We have gone as far as to say that
“committee members have other duties in the House…They may have commitments” and so on. However, if colleagues cannot join us for a prolonged period, it may be wiser for the Labour party to nominate others who can attend, and could have attended over the several years for which we have been sitting. I do not think it reasonable for Labour Members to complain about a lack of scrutiny and then not take up the scrutiny places that are theirs.
We expect the Committee to be busy. We have been given an indication that the instruments will start to flow through to us very shortly after the Bill has completed its democratic journey here, and I look forward to continuing the work that we have done in ensuring that the correct scrutiny is provided.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Andrew Jones. He speaks with authority about the important detail and minutiae of procedure, which forms much of the subject matter in the Lords amendments.
I am also delighted to welcome the Solicitor General, my hon. and learned Friend Michael Tomlinson, to his place. He follows in a very honourable tradition. We have mentioned the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which is, of course, very germane to this debate, but let us not forget the European Communities Act 1972 itself, which another Solicitor General, the late Lord Howe, took through this place when he was—in his own words, to me—in the happiest job of his political career. So I say to my hon. and learned Friend, “Enjoy it while it lasts.” I hope that it lasts a long time, because I think he brings a real quality to the job. He understands the role of a Law Officer, and I am delighted that the Government have chosen to deploy him at this stage of the debate, because although this might be seen as a rather arid area of the law, passions are running high.
I am sorry that I was not here to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, but I was extremely grateful to him when, as Brexit Minister, he was good enough to consult me about his ambition for this Bill when I was on one of my furloughs from Government last year. It was an ambition that I understood and, frankly, shared. There is a strong, respectable argument to be made for those with the political will to show a sense of direction and give a steer to civil servants on what we want to achieve. There is no doubt that the aims of the Bill, which I continue to support, are entirely laudable. My right hon. Friend needs no criticism at all for seeking to continue to apply the collective feet of the machinery of government to the fire of regulatory reform.
That is what we are talking about here. Let us strip away the B-word, the Brexit word. Everyone knows what my position was on that: I was a remainer. I campaigned for it, fought for it and believed in it, but I accepted the vote of the British people. As my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright said in his excellent speech, this really is another chapter in the delivery of the verdict by the British people that we were enjoined to carry out. That is why I think the mechanism is necessary.
I note the arguments about the otiose nature of this legislation due to the fact that various regulations can be amended or removed through the normal proceedings of the House, but it was right to come back to the issue of retained EU law after a moment of reflection. That was precisely the Government’s intention in 2017. I remember when I was in my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General’s place making the argument that this was a freezing of the law and a sweeping-up clause designed to put this category of law into an understandable compartment, so that we could return to the issues once we had got through not just Brexit but the transition period and once we knew the shape of the future relationship. We are now in that position, and my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset was therefore timely with his intentions and his wish to get things moving.
However, as with all honourable and great plans, events sometimes intervene. There were plenty of examples of officials across the civil service doing their best to identify which regulations and statutory instruments needed to go, but the National Archives kept cropping up again and again. There was also a question mark about the efficacy of the Government dashboard and whether it was too unreflective of all the regulations that existed pursuant to retained EU law. I have to say that that caused me to lose confidence that we could, in due time, identify all the regulations that needed to be looked at, swept up or removed. My fear was that we would have ended up in the position of repeal by accident, whereby perfectly decent regulations that still have an application today and that underpin business transactions or other relationships between the individual and the state would have been repealed. That would not have been good for the law or for certainty—the rule of law depends on certainty—and that worried me.
It therefore came as no surprise when the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my right hon. Friend Kemi Badenoch, came to the conclusion that she did. Hence the replacement of that ambitious sunset at the end of this year with what I will call the 600. This is resonant of Tennyson in many ways, and I hope that the end for this 600 will be as clear as the end was for the noble Light Brigade. As I think all Conservative Members would agree, we want to see that as the beginning, not the end, of regulatory reform.
Seeing as my right hon. and learned Friend is half a league onward, does he agree that this is a very good example of grown-up policymaking?
In a word, yes. I am a voluntary member of the Regulatory Reform Group, which my hon. Friend so ably chairs. As we look at the context of these amendments, it is important to strip away the B-word and remind ourselves of the purpose of regulation. Hastily proposed regulation, without a clear policy objective and without sufficient consideration for the costs involved, is without doubt a bad thing, but hastily repealed regulation, without proper evidence-based decisions, can also be a very bad thing.
When we talk about the burden of regulation, looking at the mere number is, by no means, the whole picture. Indeed, it can be very misleading, because it is the type of regulation that is most important. That is why the way in which we undertake cost-benefit analysis of regulatory burdens is so important and, in some ways, deficient—it is not dynamic enough, and it does not deal with the developing or cumulative effects of regulation on competition. We might end up in a situation in which the opposite of a policy objective is obtained. We have seen examples where a monopoly might be entrenched or competition undermined, which is neither good lawmaking nor good regulation.
The Government have tried a number of initiatives: one in, one out; one in, two out; and business impact targets in the mid-2010s. The 2015 Parliament saw a downturn in the cost of regulation but, of themselves, such initiatives do not achieve their purpose, for which, to invoke my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset again, political will is needed.
Looking at the Government’s business impact targets for 2020-21, the biggest saving in direct costs to customers and businesses was the £3.6 billion reduction achieved by the Ministry of Justice, which I then led, through the whiplash civil law reforms that resulted in savings for insurers and consumers. It is a successful example of how a well-targeted regulatory and legislative change can make a difference. We can do it, and we must do it. I think all Conservative Members would vigorously agree with that approach.
I would say this Bill has been improved. I take no issue with Government amendment (a) to Lords amendment 16. My hon. Friend Sir William Cash very much supports that Government amendment, which seems eminently sensible.
I also adopt the observations of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam on the detail of Lords amendments 6 and 42. I am all for proper scrutiny, and I am all for this place and, indeed, the other place, where appropriate, being able to have their say on the passage or removal of delegated legislation, which we all know that we do not do as well as we ought to.
I yield to no one in my admiration for the noble Lord Hope of Craighead, who works extremely hard on these issues. I do not think the amendments, as currently structured, are there. That is why, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam, I draw back from supporting them, although I would press the Solicitor General and his colleagues in the other place if this were to continue, which it might—we can never say never to these things—to look again at the issue.
There may be another, more elegant solution. Dare I say it, there may be potential to amend the Standing Orders of this place and the other place to deal with some of these points. The Standing Orders of the House of Commons are the closest thing we have to a written constitution and, in my mind, they are the most important document we have as a democratic House, but we can amend them, and we do amend them. There were times during the Brexit years when we did just that. In fact, we legislated in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to create a sifting Committee, but that related to deficiencies at the top end of the process of Brexit, of which this is yet another chapter. Although we have some precedents, I am not sure that we are quite there with the form of these amendments.
To sum up, reality has had to, for the time being, trump the scale of the ambition that we should have. What brings us all together as Conservatives is that sense of ambition; we know we can do this. We need Ministers with the political will to do it. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset is disappointed, to say the least, that his noble ambitions were not achieved in the way he wanted. I believe there is a collective will here for us to do more, to do it better and to come back to the true aim of regulation, which is the effective advance of a policy objective in the clearest of ways. That is why the Regulatory Reform Group has been set up: because we do not think that Government and regulators do that as well as they should. The way has been lost. Let us together re-find that way. Together, with this Bill as the beginning, we can achieve the noble objectives of effective regulation.
Perfectly, that leaves you with 10 minutes each. I call Brendan Clarke-Smith.
I was going to speak about amendment 15. I am sure that, as usually happens, we will see social media graphics saying that all Conservative Members are trying to trash the environment, but our case was made eloquently and entertainingly by my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford and my hon. Friend Simon Hoare.
I shall certainly support the Government proposals today, and I will outline why. Of course, this all comes back to taking back control, which was very important for Brexiteers such as myself. Like my hon. Friend Gareth Bacon, I campaigned for Brexit, and more than 68% of people in Bassetlaw voted for it. Of course, whether someone voted for it or for remain—we know that for many people it was a marginal decision—there is a need for us to accept the result and work together to make the best of the situation, because we want this country to be successful. It is in that spirit, which I feel across the House, that we are moving forward together today.
Brexit is not something where we simply flip a switch. Of course, we got Brexit done, but Brexit is a process and an evolution. That is very much what we are looking at today on retained EU law; we have a process and it will continue. We would like to have a deadline on it, but we realise that the practicalities are not necessarily in line with that. There is a delivery issue and we have to be realistic; we are fast approaching
I have a lot of sympathy with the comments made by my right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, and I hope that the drive, ambition and spirit that he has shown will be taken forward in the way we address this legislation in the future.
My hon. Friend Simon Baynes made an excellent point when he talked about aviation regulations and so on being things that we would not necessarily change. Not all of these laws are things that we will look to get rid of. We want to make a good job of this and do it properly. That is the main thing we need to focus on.
I know that some people were worried about whether we are in this position because of some underlying reason to do with the Windsor framework. Again, the Minister and the Secretary of State have given us an excellent explanation from the Dispatch Box as to why that is absolutely not the case.
As we have heard, the Bill ends the supremacy of EU law and we no longer have to interpret legislation using EU case law as our only basis. I was genuinely worried about the unintended consequences of getting rid of legislation without having the time to get all the SIs through, so I fully understand why the Government have taken the approach they have. The regular updates will help us match the ambition suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, and I look forward to that. This shows the public how the Government are making this work and making a success of the legislation.
I will support the Government tonight—this is a challenge, but it is one that I am sure we are up for— and I encourage colleagues to do the same.
It is an honour to wind up for the Back Benchers in this tremendous debate. It has been good natured, but it has also revealed, in a constructive way, some of the profound differences that have divided the country and the House in recent years. The Bill represents the great unfinished business of Brexit. It is, in a sense, the fulfilment of the great promise of Brexit: to bring back control over our laws.
There are two visions of Brexit among those of us who supported it. On the one hand, there are those who believe in deregulation, innovation and free trade. They believe not in the fantasy of slashing protections and regulations, but in cheap food, even in free movement, and in the vision of John Bright, the ancestor of my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, who believed so passionately in free trade. On the other hand, there are those of us who believe more in the protection of domestic industry, in reducing migration and in workers’ rights—more Disraeli than Bright.
With that tension in the Tory tribe, we have been battling in recent years about the fulfilment and implementation of the Brexit dream. The fact is that whichever side of the tension we are on, we believe that it should be this Parliament that sets the direction for our country and delivers the sort of country we want to be, post our membership of the European Union. We should determine policy in these areas. That is why the Bill is so good and so right.
I recognise that some hon. Members and parliament-arians in the other place object to the process for the revocation of EU law, particularly the use of statutory instruments, that the Bill introduces. I respect the spirit of the amendments championed by Lord Hamilton in the other place and by Stella Creasy here, but as my hon. Friend Andrew Jones just explained so well, these are profound questions about parliamentary process that are not appropriate for this Bill or this place. Although the spirit of the amendments may be valid, I do not think it is appropriate to tamper with the process through this Bill.
The fact is that the elected Government are responsible for scheduling the measures that will be revoked or reformed—there will be that democratic oversight, unlike there was in the process by which those measures were brought into this place. My right hon. Friend George Eustice explained clearly how this House had no opportunity to challenge EU law as it was introduced. The laws came into Parliament by sneaky means, rather like the rats coming up through the drains, but they will go out in the proper way: briskly and fairly.
I am pleased that we are doing this and, crucially, that we are making the profound change given effect by the Bill, which is to restore the supremacy of UK law. I honour the Government for their efforts to get the process of extirpation, or revocation, right, and to remove the problem that there are two systems of law in operation in this country. We should have one system of law, made in this place.
I approved of the sunset clause. I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg about the value of having the stimulus of a deadline. I recognise and respect the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland about the danger of having sent the Light Brigade of valiant EU laws into the valley of death, but it would be dangerous to send in the heavy brigade after them. Nevertheless, I think we had the right approach. I accept the Secretary of State’s argument that those in Whitehall rather over-interpreted their instruction to find laws to retain and found that they needed to retain them all. They must have worked very hard—they probably even came into the office to do that work.
My hon. Friend will know that there are other countries that may themselves want to leave the European Union in the future and will be watching us closely. Our ability to implement our own laws will be instrumental in whether they decide to join us in freedom.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention; I hope we can inspire the countries of Europe, as we have so often in our history.
We have changed from a default assumption of removal of EU laws to a default assumption of retention. I understand the rationale for that change, even if I regret it. I also regret, but do not understand, why the decision to change the basis of the law was made when the Bill had passed its stages in this House and was in the House of Lords. It passed the Commons with a big majority and the whole Conservative party behind it; I think it was the SNP spokesperson who said it was rather like a handbrake turn in the House of Lords. I agree with that and I regret it.
Nevertheless, since then the Government have engaged constructively with Members. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, who is not in his place. I think every Bill needs an hon. Member for Stone stage, and if that was not done through the European Scrutiny Committee, it was done behind the scenes and it was very effective—[Interruption.] I see my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon agreeing with me about the value of that stage of legislation.
I respect the Government’s intention and I accept their assurances that they intend to revoke at scale, because we need to recognise that the new schedule as it stands is very weak. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone said that only five of the measures in the schedule reflect significant laws. He said he was watching Eurovision while doing that work, so it must have been a very painful exercise—gloriously awful. Britain did very badly in Eurovision, and I am afraid Britain has not done brilliantly in this exercise either. It reflects poorly on Whitehall that we have only managed to identify those five substantial measures for revocation.
There is so much that can be done, whether people are free traders, like my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset—who is back in his place—or protectionists like some of us.
My hon. Friend says he is a protectionist, and I think that might need a bit of amplification. I do not think he means it in the traditional sense of the word, but I am genuinely intrigued.
I think my right hon. and learned Friend is trying to rescue me from some sort of political blunder, which I am perfectly capable of making. I am grateful to him for that. This is not the moment for that great debate, although I mentioned the tension in our philosophy between the free trading and protectionist impulses. I want to look after our Wiltshire farmers and I want to see the industry of this country rise again and Britain become a great exporting nation.
I wonder if it is fair to say that my hon. Friend is the Lord George Bentinck of the modern era?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, the Peel of our era.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I will not try the patience of the House any longer. My point is that, whether people are free traders or protectionists, surely they want to see VAT reformed. That was the great Brexit freedom opportunity, and we should be using our new freedoms to do it.
We need more ambition. I recognise that the Government intend to report every six months. I am pleased with amendment (b) to Lords amendment 16, tabled by my hon. Friend Dean Russell with the support of the Government, and I particularly support amendment (a) to Lords amendment 16 in the name of the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, which will require the Government to specify at every reporting stage the laws that are going to be reformed or revoked. I support the case my hon. Friend made for having some kind of tsar or commander-in-chief to oversee the process of identifying the laws for reform or revocation. We need a good process here, but we have the right Bill with the right principles in it, and we can now fight out the proper vision for the future of our country.
What a great pleasure it is to follow the winding-up speech from the Back Benches by my hon. Friend Danny Kruger. I agree with him entirely. This has been a good-natured debate, both detailed and robust where it needed to be. I also agree with my hon. Friend Bim Afolami that this debate is Parliament doing what it does best—as it often does, and often unseen. This has been a robust but grown-up debate, worthy of the subject matter.
I fear that I will not be able to go into detail for every Member who has spoken, but it is right and proper that I mention the speeches that have been made. I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright) and for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland). There is always a risk in such debates of a sort of lawyers’ love-in, but I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon for his kind remarks and for reminding us of the history of Solicitors General appearing at the Dispatch Box for other tricky bits of legislation—not to mention litigation.
I will come back to some of the detail, but in no particular order, I am grateful to my hon. Friend Andrew Jones for what he does in his Committee. He is right that, in many ways, his Committee and that of my hon. Friend Sir William Cash do similar things: detailed, painstaking and incredibly valuable work that is done unseen, upstairs in the Committee corridors. I am grateful to my Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough for his elucidation of that work.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Gareth Bacon, who served throughout the Bill Committee. He has been here from the beginning through to the end, and I am grateful for his dedication and persistence, and for his speech. I have mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, but I will come back to him in a few moments.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes and for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), and my neighbour and hon. Friend Simon Hoare, who I will, of course, come back to in due course. I thank my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford, as well as my hon. Friend Brendan Clarke-Smith for his remarks as a dedicated Brexiteer. I will, as I must, come back to my right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg and try to engage with the points that he made.
Let me mention some of the interventions that were made. I thought that my right hon. Friend George Eustice—a former Secretary of State—made some pertinent and detailed interventions at the right moment. I thank him for his work as Secretary of State and for the continued work and thoughts that he feeds into His Majesty’s Government.
I am also grateful to my hon. Friend Dean Russell for his interventions. When preparing for this debate, I re-read his Second Reading speech, which was rightly credited by both sides of the House as a simply magnificent speech in the circumstances. The former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, quite rightly paid tribute to him at the time, and I am sure that he would echo my comments.
I also pay tribute to Stella Creasy for serving on the Bill Committee. I mentioned that she and I have served on Bill Committees before, and I know that she undertakes her work diligently. Indeed, when she mentioned Bill Committees and Whips, I wondered whether she was putting in a bid to be a shadow—
She is shaking her head. Well, she is missing out, because she would enjoy it and do it well. She made an impassioned speech on why she believes that we should have remained in the EU. I want to pick her up on one point: she said that she wanted to know what laws were going to be revoked. Well, I invite her to join us in the Division Lobby, with the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, who tabled an amendment to insert:
“including specifying in a list such provisions of retained EU law as is intended to be revoked or reformed.”
The hon. Lady can join us in the Division Lobby this evening.
I am so sorry, but the Minister was not in the Chamber, so perhaps he misunderstood or something was lost in translation, as if often can be in this place. What I wanted to know was the direct effect cases, which is what amendment 6 would provide for. I agree with him—although I think that the list has little impact on any changes—but might he join me in voting for Lords amendment 6 to ensure that we know about everything affected by the legislation?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that I was in the Chamber for the entirety of her speech —from beginning to end. Indeed, even before she stood up and after she sat down, I was in the Chamber. The only speech that I missed was that of Layla Moran, who was representing the Liberal Democrats. I heard the first few words and the end, and I apologise to her for that. Other than that, I was in the Chamber for the entire debate.
My point remains that the hon. Member for Walthamstow said that she wanted to know what the Government’s intentions were for revocation. If she does, I invite her to support my hon. Friend the Member for Stone in the Aye Lobby later this evening. That would be quite a coupling, and I very much look forward to that moment.
Let me turn from my introductory remarks to some more of the substance. It is crucial that we continue to progress this Bill over the final hurdles to Royal Assent. The Bill is a key part of the Government’s ambition to reform our economy and to support growth. We must capitalise on the competitive advantages that the UK has, now that we are no longer restrained by membership of the EU. We must ask ourselves which regulations have worked, which further regulations can be scrapped, and which could be reformed.
May I turn to the criticisms levelled at the schedule? I enjoyed listening to the shadow Secretary of State’s speech—I always enjoy listening to him speak. I almost thought that he welcomed the schedule. Perhaps he will join the hon. Member for Walthamstow in the Government Division Lobby, but perhaps not because it was an almost welcome that he gave it. I take what I can from his speech and that was certainly a positive, if nothing else. I am grateful to him for his contribution to the debate. I assure colleagues that this is only part of our reform programme.
I will address some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset. He said that this was the perfect opportunity for reform, and it still is, not least thanks to him, his hard work and drive, and the dashboard that he has championed throughout. Thanks to that, it is not only Members in this House but people throughout the country and, if they are interested, across the world who will be able to look at regular updates on our retained EU law.
There has been some criticism and some mention of inertia and delay. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes mentioned Whitehall. The Attorney General has arrived at absolutely the right moment, because I would like to pay tribute to the Government Legal Department, to Government lawyers who have been poring over retained EU law. When my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset introduced the Bill, the explanatory notes estimated that there were some 2,400 pieces of retained EU law. But that was not so. Thanks to the diligence of civil servants, the Bill team and Government lawyers, more than double that number have been identified. The 600—the Light Brigade—are not the limit of the Government’s ambitions.
More reforms are planned. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam that this approach has the potential to lead to greater reform than might otherwise have been the case. Others have asked if this is a change in direction. No, it is not. It is a different way of doing the same thing, potentially with better and faster results. I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend was right, and I am grateful to him for his engagement in this debate.
For those of us who supported Brexit, it is important that we are able to tailor our own laws to suit the circumstances of our own country. Can the Solicitor General tell me, however, how this situation is better for people in Northern Ireland? Given that we have been left in the position of being an annex to the EU, many of these changes do not apply.
I am very grateful indeed to the right hon. Gentleman for his engagement throughout the debate, not only today but previously. He and I have engaged on certain related, like-minded campaigns, and I pay tribute to him for the work he does in his constituency. I reassure him that the Bill’s provisions apply equally to all parts of the United Kingdom and that Northern Ireland Ministers will benefit from the same powers as Ministers of the Crown, not least thanks to amendments tabled in the other place.
As for the criticisms of the mechanisms of the statutory instruments that are being used, I wish those concerns about lack of scrutiny had been raised during our membership of the EU. Where were they? Where were the cries? Where were the complaints? They were simply absent.
Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that under section 2, they all came in almost entirely? There was some primary legislation, but it was almost entirely done through statutory instrument, and against the background of the undemocratic process that took place at the Council of Ministers.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, for that point. I believe he has been a member of the Committee since 1985 and has chaired it for almost as long, but not quite. I served on his Committee, and he has seen thousands of regulations pass through, unseen apart from his work and that of his Committee. Once again, I pay tribute to him for that work.
In terms of environmental protections, I remind the House of the repeated commitments made by Ministers at all stages of the Bill’s passage. I pay tribute again to Sammy Wilson for his very clear interventions, amplifying so well the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset and made so powerfully by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford early on in her speech, with which I agree in its entirety. I will just touch on that point, and amplify it briefly: since leaving the European Union, this Government have passed the landmark Environment Act 2021. We have produced our 2023 environment implementation plan, our storm overflows discharge reduction plan, and our plan for water. There are other plans, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I will not try your patience by reading out each and every one of them. [Hon. Members: “Go on!”] Well, only because I am being encouraged to, I will mention the Agriculture Act 2020 and—because the Attorney General is here—the Fisheries Act 2020. That will gladden her heart.
There it is: any accusation that Government Members are any less concerned about environmental protections than Opposition Members is totally false. Under the Environment Act, we are committed to deliver a legally binding target to halt nature’s decline by 2030. In reviewing its retained EU law, DEFRA’s aim is to ensure that environmental law is fit for purpose, able to drive improved environmental outcomes while ensuring regulators can deliver efficiently. That will ensure that the UK regulatory framework is appropriate and tailored for our needs in our country—in the United Kingdom. The Government have clear environmental and climate goals, which have been repeatedly set out. I could say the same in relation to workers’ rights, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Watford made the case so powerfully in his earlier intervention.
I will mention two more points before I close, the first of which relates to page 16 of the Bill. The port services regulations have been mentioned: that legislation has never been appropriate in the context of the United Kingdom’s decentralised and competitive ports sector. Removing the port services regulations from our statute book will reduce the bureaucracy in our ports sector, doing away with unnecessary reporting burdens.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend is “Hear, hear”-ing so loudly from the Back Benches.
I will now turn to interpretive effects and Lords amendment 6, and some of the concerns that have been raised. I take this opportunity to again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, who has ceaselessly campaigned to end what he calls the shadow statute book. The fact is that the amendment replaces the section of the Bill developed by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset—who introduced the Bill—whereby section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act will be repealed after
I once again thank all Members for their contributions to the debate. This schedule is by no means the limit to our ambition for reforms of EU law: we have the power and we will continue to amend EU laws. It is imperative that we ensure this Bill reaches Royal Assent promptly; and as to the Government amendments, I commend them to the House.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 6.
The House divided: Ayes 296, Noes 215.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Lords amendment 6 disagreed to.
More than four hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (