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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 28th February 2018.

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Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 6:00 pm, 28th February 2018

My Lords, I too support Amendments 21 and 22, which would restrict the powers of Ministers to modify retained EU law by secondary legislation in the contexts that have been mentioned: employment rights, equality rights, health and safety, consumer standards, environmental standards and human rights. All of those are vital areas. It is important in considering these amendments to recognise the breadth of the secondary legislation powers that are being conferred on Ministers under the Bill—and not just by Clause 7, to which we will come next week or the week after. The point is made by the organisation ClientEarth in a helpful opinion, which I commend to the Committee, written by Pushpinder Saini QC. He draws attention—and I draw the attention of the Committee—to some provisions that are tucked away in Schedule 8 to the Bill, on page 55. Paragraph 3(1) refers to existing powers in legislation to make subordinate legislation. It says:

“Any power to make, confirm or approve subordinate legislation which was conferred before exit day is to be read, on or after exit day and so far as the context permits or requires, as being capable of being exercised to modify … any retained direct EU legislation”.

That is a remarkably broad power. On page 56, at paragraph 5(1) of Schedule 8, there is a similar power for any future power to make subordinate legislation. Of course, the word “modify” has a very broad meaning, because it is defined in Clause 14(1), on page 10, to include amending, repealing or revoking.

That gives context to the importance of these two amendments. Can the Minister confirm that this really is the Government’s intention? Schedule 8 does not have the two-year limitation period that Clause 7 has. Clause 7 applies only for two years, which is bad enough, but at least it is time-limited, whereas Schedule 8 is not. Is it really the Government’s intention to confer power on Ministers to repeal by secondary legislation—with all the difficulties that poses for adequate scrutiny by Parliament—any employment rights and any of the other important protections mentioned in Amendment 21 and 22 in so far as they are part of retained EU law, which as we have heard covers the Equality Act and many other Acts in so far as they derive from, or are linked to, EU law obligations?