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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:07 am on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative 10:07 am, 31st January 2018

My Lords, I begin today’s debate following on from my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton. I agree with her that we must push ahead with this Bill and give it a Second Reading. Preserving existing EU law as it currently applies to the UK is essential in providing continuity and legal certainty on the day of, and in the days after, exit. This does not mean that I am totally without concerns about the Bill as it currently stands, but it will be up to noble Lords to engage in discussions in Committee and during the following stages of the Bill.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for restating the Government’s proposal to create a sifting committee or committees. Perhaps in winding up the debate the Minister will be able to update us on this matter. Could he also give us more details as to the timetable envisaged, because I believe that we have a very tight timetable, not only for primary legislation but for the handling of negative instruments and for the necessary robust scrutiny by the various committees? Is the Minister able to tell us exactly what proportion of the 800-plus—some say 1,000-plus—statutory instruments that it will be necessary to lay will follow the negative procedure and how many might follow the affirmative procedure? I am not clear on that point. Can he also comment on the safeguards that will ensure that these are made by the dates laid down in law?

My concerns with this Bill fall mainly in three parts: first, the role of Parliament and the Henry VIII powers in the Bill as it currently stands; secondly, devolution; and, thirdly, the timetable for and the importance of proper scrutiny. My noble friend Lord Hill described the Bill as boring, but I do not agree. For me, this is probably one of the most important Bills we shall be dealing with for a long time. It is an opportunity to ensure that we have the right—I was going to say “appropriate”, but after yesterday’s discussion on that word, I will say “right”—clauses and detail when the Bill leaves this House. My right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith said that he supported the principle of the Bill and the need for it, but recognised that,

“in Committee there will be need to review how some of those checks and balances are introduced, and I hope that is done properly and powerfully”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/9/17; col. 378.]

I can think of no better Chamber to do that, and I look forward to noble Lords taking part in it.

Many noble Lords know my interest in agriculture, the countryside and the environment. A high proportion of the necessary legislative changes fall within the agriculture and environment arena, for which Defra has responsibility. I particularly welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of maintaining standards of animal welfare and for bringing forward the draft animal welfare and recognition of sentience Bill. I know too that there is to be a consultation on fishing and fish stocks. Crucially, this must directly consult with the devolved Administrations.

An agriculture Bill is proposed, as is the creation of a stand-alone, non-government statutory body to oversee, scrutinise and hold the Government to account. I do not share the gloom of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, but I know that this new body needs to be robust if it is to succeed in protecting the environment for future generations. Yesterday, in his contribution the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, spoke about the need to preserve the things that affect us all: air quality, fresh water, habitats and tackling pollution. All of these are currently EU based, so it is crucial that this new body is in place in time before we exit the EU.

Many noble Lords have made excellent contributions to this debate, expressing many different views, but I hope all of us believe that we must move this Bill forward whatever our views are, whether we were for leaving or remaining within the EU. There is a great urgency in getting this Bill on the legislative path. Whatever our views, we must join together and make sure that this important Bill is on the statute book sooner rather than later.