Moved by Lord Judge
32: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out subsection (2) and insert—“(2) Subsection (1) does not apply—(a) to an instrument, or a provision of an instrument, that is specified in regulations made by a relevant national authority,(b) where an instrument, or a provision of an instrument, is being replaced, restated or reproduced, until one month after the replacement instrument has been laid before both Houses of Parliament, or(c) where an instrument, or a provision of an instrument, is not being replaced, restated or reproduced, until one month after a Minister of the Crown has made a statement to that effect in each House of Parliament.(2A) Where subsection (2)(b) or (c) applies to an instrument, or a provision of an instrument, and both Houses of Parliament resolve prior to the date in subsection (1) that the instrument be retained, then the Government must make regulations under subsection (2)(a) specifying that instrument.”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment would require the Government to set out in advance what they propose will happen to each instrument covered by the sunset Clause, giving Parliament the ability to scrutinise these decisions. It would also allow Parliament to overrule the Executive and choose to retain specified instruments if both Houses agree.
My Lords, I feel like Henry V before the siege of Harfleur. Looking around, I see:
“greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start”.
Just like those poor chaps outside Harfleur, I suspect your Lordships all want it to be over quickly, and that is my intention.
This amendment is very simple. It is my answer to the letter I received from the Government about the Bill which I read out to the Chamber at Second Reading. It does not seek to preserve a single law, in any of the 4,000 pieces of material we are looking at, which Parliament wishes to revoke. Equally, it does not seek to revoke a single law which Parliament wishes to retain. It has nothing to do with that. Its objective is to ask that Parliament has a chance to look at what is proposed and to examine those proposals, not for a very long time, so that Parliament and not the Executive can decide.
If this amendment, or any of the amendments in this group, had reflected the statute in draft—the Bill, in other words—most of the arguments we have had over however long it has been would have been quite unnecessary. Maybe an amendment of this kind would have achieved that; I am not particularly supporting my own but all the amendments in this group.
Let us just go back. Probably the most persuasive argument against joining the Common Market in 1972 was that it gifted power over our legislative processes to an institution which was not wholly elected here and was not answerable exclusively to the electorate in the United Kingdom. That argument was rejected and lost, and the result is that, through the processes which we supported, we have been subject to laws directly enforceable here in the United Kingdom, created by a system of directions from the Common Market—now the European Union—which were converted into unchallengeable statutory instruments. As we now know, there are something like 4,000 still extant.
Given the time available, I will not explain what a pernicious effect all that had on the way in which statutory instruments have taken over primary legislation. But, importantly—I am stating the obvious, yet it is overlooked from time to time—what we call EU retained law is British law. It is our law; it came from an outside source and was introduced here to be enforced here, through our statutory and parliamentary system, but it is our law.
I cannot begin to imagine how the country as a whole would react if, instead of being able to dismiss it as EU retained law, we were able to look at this problem: we are going to give the Government the power to revoke all the laws relating to the environment and to employment—all the issues argued about in this House. Having done that, we will give them the power to bring in new ones, changing the way in which they operate. If we did not have this disguise of “EU retained”, I venture to suggest that no Government would be doing what this Government are doing about this particular group of laws. Until we appreciate that we are dealing with our law, which is subject to this Bill, we are not facing the reality of it.
Let us go to the most powerful argument in favour of Brexit: legislative processes should be returned to Parliament. Of course, that is the answer to “What happened when we entered the Common Market?” We will change it and go back to where we were. I do not think that “Taking back control” was just a happy slogan; it reflected a true constitutional principle. However—this is the heart of the amendment—it did not follow that this power should be given to a Minister of the Crown. It is as simple as that. The objective was not for the Executive to take back control; it was for Parliament to take back control. If we are going to honour the whole basis on which taking back control was designed to work, and was seen and appreciated to be going to work, we have to do what is required and return this power to Parliament.
The idea that we will suddenly cease to have secondary legislation is nonsense; we need secondary legislation. However, for these issues, we need proper examination and proper scrutiny. The proposal in this amendment is that we should have it. It does not propose—and could not, as I emphasised earlier—the survival of a single EU law. It could not, unless Parliament agreed. That is the objective of the amendment.
I understood the argument at Second Reading that this Bill does no more than was done to us by the EU, so why should this power that was given to the Common Market not be exercised by a Minister of the Crown? In effect, the argument was that we should just obey what we are told. However, those who advanced that argument had believed it to be wrong—a mistake and a constitutional aberration. If you believe that, surely the mistake that was made in 1972 should not be repeated here in 2023. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 141A in my name, which has cross-party support, for which I am most grateful. Noble Lords in all parts of the Committee have been fiercely critical of the cut-off date. However, even if the present draconian date is replaced with something a little saner, the task of assessing and taking decisions on so many instruments will be huge.
My amendment, like several others in this group, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has remarked, is designed to give Parliament a say in that process. As many noble Lords on both sides of the issue acknowledge, some of these instruments will be of no great significance. But there will be many of much greater weight, whose survival, whether in their original or an amended form, will be of huge importance to our fellow citizens. There will of course be instruments, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out in his lapidary intervention on the first day of Committee, whose survival unamended will be almost a matter of course because we would not want to get rid of them—nobody would.
In this group, Amendments 43, 50, 62A and of course the amendment we are now specifically debating seek to give an active role to Parliament in an otherwise Executive-dominated process. My amendment goes a little further in providing for a substantial parliamentary assessment—including whether there has been adequate consultation—and for a process of suggested amendment, as part of what one might call this triaging activity. It does not deal with the unannounced repeal, which is a real problem. It could easily be adapted to do precisely that on Report, if that were acceptable. Of course, the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, does that.
I have long felt that attempting to regulate proceedings in Parliament by the vehicle of statute ends in tears, and I am grateful to the Public Bill Office for keeping me on the straight and narrow in this case. But noble Lords will see that the amendment bites only if the two Houses wish to set up a Joint Committee to undertake the sifting process, leaving that to exclusively parliamentary decision. The operational details are also left to Parliament. I happen to think that you would need a very big Joint Committee because, in the time available, whether it is longer or as expected now, you would need sub-committees to deal with subject areas or particular parts of the activity.
If the committee were set up, it would judge whether there had been a substantive change to preceding EU law and whether there has been sufficient public consultation upon the instrument containing the change. This triaging process has much to do with the recent recommendations of the Hansard Society in its report on delegated legislation—I declare that I am a member of its panel on delegated legislation.
I will mention one further feature of the amendment, which relates to the handling of amendments proposed to an instrument. I would expect such amendments to come from the Joint Committee, but there is absolutely no fundamental reason why they should. There are some points of contact with the legislative reform procedure, which is typically very lengthy. But I note that there are time limits in Amendment 50 that seek to address that problem.
It is important to recognise that this amendment does not provide for amendable SIs, as they are generally known. I have no wish to establish a category of quasi-Bills, subject to all the apparatus of reaching agreement between the two Houses. In Committee, I make no apology for now saying that the amendment is somewhat rough-hewn, and I hope that Ministers will address its policy aim, rather than focusing on any drafting issues. If the amendment returns on Report, whether or not elements of it might be combined with amendments tabled by other noble Lords, it will reflect the wisdom of noble Lords expressed in this debate.
My Lords, as well as producing a helpful amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, produced a helpful phrase: “unannounced repeal”. That neatly gives a focus to what we are talking about: the washing down the plughole of things that have not been announced or discussed, without the involvement of any parliamentary process specific to them, beyond the Bill itself.
I support the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. In all the discussions when he and I were members of the Constitution Committee of this House and we considered the EU withdrawal Bill, I do not remember anyone saying, “What will happen is that we’ll set a very short timetable, and everything will have to be dealt with by extra-parliamentary processes during that short period”. We had many discussions with senior judges and others, and the assumption was that law would be moved over—or assimilated, to use the Government’s preferred phrase—into UK law and then dealt with as time and necessity required. Some things would be changed quite quickly because they needed to be updated, but others were doing no harm and could be dealt with later. My feeling was that obsolete or irrelevant things would best be dealt with by something like the Law Commission process, which goes through legislation, identifies what does not need to be on the statute book any more and brings in legislation that deals with it. There were perfectly good procedures available to us by which we could have done that. Instead, we have this fierce timetable.
I therefore support the aims of Amendment 141A, which would create a sifting process, just as I support the aims of Amendment 32. As I said, Amendment 32 is significant because it deals with the unannounced repeals. It is bad enough having inadequate parliamentary processes to discuss those measures which will replace or modify retained European law; I think we all know how limited and inadequate the processes are. Although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, that amendable statutory instruments are a difficult route to go down, there are a few occasions when it happens—but it is really quite difficult. That suggests again that primary legislation should be the vehicle for making significant changes which we probably would never have made by secondary legislation if we had been doing it ourselves rather than being part of a European process. I say in passing, however, that occasionally discussions about how this European legislation was created slightly ignore co-decision in the work of the European Parliament, which is surprising given that the Minister was himself a Member of the European Parliament.
However, I am as worried about the unannounced repeals section—that is, those things which will disappear or effectively be taken off the statute book simply by the decision of a Minister. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, likes to talk about Henry VIII powers. The nearest parallel I can find for what is being done is the Declaration of Indulgence of 1672, with the crucial difference that that declaration had a very noble purpose: to provide a degree of religious freedom to Catholics and dissenters. It is still not a very desirable process, because basically it was His Majesty’s Ministers saying, “We’re never going to get it through this Parliament, so we will just do it.” That is how the Declaration of Indulgence worked. I think that we have better procedures available to us now and that we should use them, and the Executive should not seek to legislate or dispense with legislation. That is a particularly dangerous precedent. If the Executive can dispense with legislation that they do not like without any action by Parliament, we are in very dangerous waters. Of course, they do not have to do anything; they just have to leave it to the sunset—the sun will set surely as it always does. In this case, the sunset takes with it legislation which they identify as stuff they do not want but which Parliament might wish to keep, might wish to reinforce its view on or might wish to have modified but should have the opportunity to consider and decide on. The purpose of Amendment 32 is to ensure that Parliament cannot be ignored in this process.
My final point arises from the helpful comments of the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, in the House on
Was it Tuesday? The dates of this Bill are becoming a blur in my mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Benyon, said:
“Defra’s default approach will be to retain EU law unless there is a good reason either to repeal it or to reform it”.—[Official Report, 28/2/23; col. 205.]
He repeated that later in the proceedings, and I think we were all pleased to hear it, particularly as it related to environmental legislation, public health and other important things. It was a very significant thing he said, but it is not how the Bill is constructed; the Bill is constructed to make it so easy to repeal the legislation that a Minister does not really have to do anything other than not put it in the box marked “reform” or “reintroduce”. I would like to feel that the attitude taken by one Defra Minister will not only be supported and reinforced by the Leader of the House and others on the Front Bench but might start to colour the attitude of other government departments as they see how undesirable it is for law to be removed or dispensed with at the whim of Ministers or simply because everything goes that way unless selected otherwise. This is not an acceptable way to proceed.
About three weeks ago, I stepped from the golden sands of the Cross Benches into my first meeting of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, for his objective and clear chairing of that committee, which I found very helpful as a newcomer. The first meeting that I attended took me straight into constitutional quicksand, rather than golden sands, in which I was looking at provisions which seemed to do the exact opposite of what we were told was the purpose of Brexit. The report of the Select Committee, which I recommend strongly to noble Lords, is clear that much of the Bill is nothing else than a dilution of parliamentary scrutiny and, therefore, a dilution of parliamentary democracy itself.
I hope that this debate will not develop into a discussion about whether we should have Brexited or whether we should remain, because that is not my intention at all. For me, this is a debate about what Brexit is intended to achieve and whether we are achieving it in a way that is consistent with parliamentary practice—a key part of our constitution. As I recall, the slogans of Brexit were undeniable. I overheard one about “bringing our democracy home”. However, the Bill actually sends our democracy from this building to the intellectual suburbs, where it will not be part of our law-making process. My Amendment 44, which is a probing amendment, is an attempt to show how easily a solution can be reached which does not dilute our democracy. To devise Amendment 44, I reached into my metaphorical bathroom cupboard and pulled from it the sharpest, but non-existent, instrument: what somebody else called Occam’s razor. That is the principle by which you look at a complicated problem and see if there is a series of simple solutions; you usually find that they are much the best way of solving that problem.
I respectfully suggest to your Lordships that we should set up an independent body led by a judicial figure, preferably a serving Court of Appeal judge—as leads, for example, the Law Commission, although this would be a different kind of commission from the Law Commission. With colleagues and staff, that body would consider the questioned laws in real time on the basis of the demands of time placed by this legislation. It would produce reports with recommendations, including for modification, and those recommendations would be placed before—yes—Parliament for the approval or otherwise of both Houses. Thus, we would sustain parliamentary democracy entirely by this simple process; it is Occam’s razor at work. Ministers would of course play their part; they would take part in the discussions with the commission, would be able to suggest changes and objections, and would be free to make representations to both the commission and Parliament—but Parliament would decide.
I have seen an opinion of Sir Jeffrey Jowell KCMG KC on the Bill, on the instructions of a number of respected NGOs. I do not simply use Sir Jeffrey as an argument ad maiorem; he is a most distinguished and authoritative figure of the law on constitutional matters. I will quote some of what he said in that opinion:
“The claim that the Bill promotes sovereignty is hollow, as it is an exceptional example of Parliament relinquishing its key responsibilities … Insofar as the Bill may be justified by some procedures being in place for the scrutiny of Statutory Instruments by Parliament, this rings equally hollow, since those procedures provide no opportunity to amend the secondary legislation and in practice have rarely been effective in halting its passage … The Bill also offends the rule of law which requires our law to be accessible, clear and predictable.”
Those citations, and there are many more in his opinion, really tell the story about the Bill and what is at its centre. My draft new clause may be the right or wrong template—I do not mind whether my amendment or some other amendment passes—but we have to try to agree something that sustains parliamentary sovereignty, which the Bill does not. Let us not sully Brexit by the criticism that is available at the moment that it has diluted and damaged our democracy at home.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, of which Amendment 62A is the key one. It covers much the same ground as that of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. It would bring this whole process back under parliamentary scrutiny by establishing a Joint Committee of both Houses which would do the review that we understand is currently taking a lot of the time of civil servants in Whitehall: their work would be absolutely germane to the work of this committee. My Joint Committee is similar to that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane; the only substantive difference is that my amendments in this group are actually remnants of a rather more ambitious original intention—namely, to delete all the first three clauses of the Bill and establish, right from the beginning, that this was a parliamentary process, not a process by the Executive alone. I still think there is merit in attaching this concept right at the beginning, before we go into more detail.
The other amendments in this group all attempt to bring some control back to Parliament. My noble friend Lady Chapman and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, wish to clarify what laws fall into which groups; then we would have a process for dealing with them systematically—through the Joint Committee, in my view, in the first instance, and then being brought back, with that Joint Committee’s recommendations, to Parliament. Of course, it is not intended that that would preclude any other initiative by the Government. If the Government wish to do this more urgently, they have every right to bring legislation, either in the form of an Act or a statutory instrument, in the normal way. The Government have raised the issue of reviewing the totality of anything that has any smell of Europe about it but, if that is what they intend, let us do it in a parliamentary way.
I just want to recall two episodes of history which might perhaps remind those who oppose departing from the Government’s view of this. The first is relatively recent. In 2018, when we were still in bitter post-Brexit arguments, many of us nevertheless accepted that we had to clarify the position of European-derived law in this House and in Parliament as a whole. We accepted the suggestion of the Government that they would make clear that EU law that had been accepted during the 50 years of our membership of the European Union and its predecessors would be part of UK law. We did not realise at the time that it was not quite the same as the rest of EU law. The reasons we accepted it were, first, that we needed some stability, for business and other elements of society, immediately following the completion of Brexit; and, secondly, that the Government needed a bit of time to consider how they would deal with that law—whether they wanted to change it, amend it or revoke it. We never contemplated, at that time, that we would have a process that completely departed from normal practice in Parliament and effectively put so much power into the hands of Ministers. That power, if it were through a statutory instrument, would be subject to only minimal scrutiny—but perhaps more importantly, and equally or rather more worryingly to parties outside, is that a whole chunk of what was European law, and is now deemed to be retained EU law, could actually fall in less than 10 months’ time, without any discussion whatever in this House or another place. That also needs to be dealt with at this stage. We need to delete the sunset clause for the end of this year and, if people think it is necessary to have an eventual sunset clause, then let us accept what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, was arguing in our last sitting.
The other episode of history is perhaps a bit more esoteric, but it might appeal to some on the Conservative Back Benches and the Brexiteer press, if I can put it that way, who claim that we have escaped the tyranny and domination of Brussels. There are plenty of precedents in history for this. When all the countries of the British Empire attained their independence from the old Commonwealth—the old dominions in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, more than a century ago, and even the establishment of the Irish Free State, right through to the countries of Africa and the Caribbean—part of that independent settlement, except where it was surrounded by war, was always that the rules which applied during the colonial period would continue to apply until the new independent judiciary and legislature changed them in Jamaica or the Irish Free State, for example. That remained the case in almost every country which gained independence from the British Empire. Those that did not follow this precept—Zimbabwe, for example—are usually crucified by the right wing in this country for doing so.
In most cases, there was a peaceful transfer of power, as there has been a peaceful transfer of power from Brussels back to this Parliament. We should follow the example of the Macmillans and the others who gave independence to all those countries. Even with the establishment of the Irish Free State, as I said, you still get Irish lawyers in the Irish courts quoting case law from Victorian times. This issue has an implication for case law as well, which we will come to at a later stage.
I hope that whatever the Government do in relation to this debate, they will see all the different proposals in this group and elsewhere and bring back on Report a proposition of their own which restores the systematic assessment of EU retained law to Parliament—with decisions resting with Parliament, not in the hands of Ministers—and prevents it from disappearing as the bells chime on New Year’s Eve later this year.
My Lords, I have put my name to two amendments in this group: Amendment 32 tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and Amendment 141A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. I have done so because, if the Government were to accept them, they would significantly enhance the ability of Parliament to scrutinise the legislation arising out of this Bill more effectively. They would do so by introducing for the first time the beginnings of a triaging system, which would enable the House to focus its efforts on those probably relatively fewer bits of legislation that really matter and ignore the rather larger number that do not.
My noble friend on the Front Bench has taken a lot of “incoming” over the past couple of days. I have some sympathy with the conflicting advice he has been given. If I were to distil what he has been criticised for, I would say that the concerns about the Bill relate to uncertainty about the Government’s approach to specific policy areas on the one hand, and the lack of parliamentary involvement on the other. These two amendments—and indeed some others in this group—would go a long way to answering those criticisms and concerns. I hope my noble friend will listen carefully to the arguments being put forward, because he might catch the sound of the cavalry arriving to bring some help to his rather beleaguered post.
We have heard a magisterial speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on Amendment 32. I am not a lawyer, and in such circumstances, to try to add to a speech made by a past Lord Chief Justice would indeed invite an accusation of hubris. Therefore I hope that Members of the Committee will come with me, if not into the weeds then into the grass—the long grass—and explore on a more practical level what I believe these amendments will achieve, how important they are in ensuring that Parliament is not taken for granted, and how they will lead to a greater level of public acceptance of the implications of particular policy choices, so reducing disconnect between the governors and the governed. Finally, in consequence of all this, I will explain why I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench and the Government will give very serious consideration to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, have proposed.
I want to draw on my experience of the past three years as chairman of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. During that time I have seen the sands of power and influence trickling through Parliament’s fingers, which has meant that the Government have gained more power at the expense of Parliament. This has long roots here. It probably began with the Blair Government, who had a very substantial majority and thought they could use secondary legislation to push stuff through quickly. It has had twists along the way with things such as the pandemic, where emergency legislation has been used for purposes for which it was not originally intended. However, the real game-changer has of course been, as we all know, the emergence of skeleton Bills—framework Bills—of which what we are discussing today is a classic example.
It is worth pausing momentarily to think about what my noble friend is going to say on why this group of amendments should not be accepted. I think the first thing the Government will claim is that, if they were to be accepted, it would be likely to lead to the government machinery being gummed up by additional legislative time taken. I reject that—it is not true. In the 600 or 700 instruments that the SLSC looks at every year, between two-thirds and three-quarters are entirely uncontroversial—they are essentially technical—and I am firmly of the view that no lesser a proportion of the regulations that will come from the Bill will fall under the same category. They will essentially be technical and uncontroversial and will not give rise to controversy, which means that your Lordships’ House and the Government will have a much smaller population of instruments on which to focus their attention.
The second thing that I think the Government will allege is of course that both Houses give their consent to each regulation. We have all heard the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who is not in his place today, on the question of amendability, and the noble Lord who just spoke referred to that as well. Technically, we know it is true, but the consent is the equivalent of having a pistol at your forehead which will fire bullets marked “constitutional crisis” and “the Strathclyde review”. In those circumstances, I argue that the consent is grudging at best.
What is really valuable about these amendments and indeed the others is that for the first time we can begin to concentrate on what really matters. This is by any standards an immensely complex Bill, and the actions taken under it will set the course for this country for many years. This House—indeed, Parliament as a whole—is entitled to know what the Government is thinking, not just in broad statements of principle but in their detailed application, which is, after all, what really matters to every citizen. If my noble friend and the Government are concerned about the generally adverse reaction to the Bill, I gently remind them that sunshine will be the best answer and these two amendments represent sunshine.
I am not against the Bill—I voted to leave the European Union and I believe it was the right thing to do—but I am also a democrat, and I voted to bring back powers to the United Kingdom. Although this is happening, sadly, as my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham memorably pointed out at Second Reading, those powers have been sent to the wrong address. If I may continue with his analogy, I regard these two amendments as attempts to redirect the repatriation of powers to their proper destination, and that is why I support them.
My Lords, I follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, which was incredibly helpful and really got to the heart of what this group of amendments seeks to do. I could support any one of them; they all try to do a similar thing in slightly different ways.
The amendment I have tabled, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, seeks to deal with perhaps the most dangerous element of the way the Government are approaching this task, in that it would prevent what the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, described as the unannounced revocation of law. Things happening by accident is what we are increasingly concerned about, especially given the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, about the inadequacies of the way the Government may be—we hope to find out more about what they are doing—endeavouring to identify all the retained EU law.
There are many concerns about the Bill, which colleagues have described in detail in this debate, but there are three which stood out to me above some of the others when I first read the Bill. The first is the total lack of clarity about which laws are going to be revoked. The second is the regulatory cliff edge which means that all retained law will be revoked by default—no matter what the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, said—at the end of this year. The third is the complete lack of parliamentary accountability and consent in the process. This amendment addresses those three concerns. Clearly, other concerns are addressed by other amendments, which I also support.
Amendment 43 is as simple as we could craft it. It is based on common-sense principles that I believe noble Lords from all sides can agree: that if the Government want to revoke a law, they should be able to, but they should be able to tell Parliament which law it is that they want to remove. The removal of the law should be an active choice, not a passive default, and should require Parliament’s consent. There is nothing in this amendment that prevents the Government achieving their stated aim of dealing with all retained EU law. Our amendment requires simply that, if the Government wish to revoke a retained piece of EU law, they must proactively submit to Parliament a list of the specific items they wish to revoke. We are not stopping anything happening; we just want this to be done in a much safer way. Both Houses would then need to vote to approve that list. Law which is not specifically revoked is retained. That is it.
As was said at Second Reading, it is perfectly reasonable for the Government to review law that has been retained from our long period as a member of the European Union. We have no argument with this. We might not like what the Government want to do and the decisions that they might make, but we do not argue with the Government’s intention to examine this class of law—although it is just UK law. It is a bit like, I suppose, if the Labour Party were to win an election and say, “Do you know what? We did not like the way that last Government behaved. We’re going to sunset everything they did and hope for the best”. I should say that that will not be in our manifesto; I say it just to highlight the insanity of the way this Government are going about this.
The amendment does not frustrate the fundamental process. It would require the Government to follow a very reasonable, proportionate approach. It could be done in a timely way—I know time is important to the Minister, who wants this to be done quickly, and this could be done relatively quickly. Through this amendment, we would have a very simple but democratic mechanism for changing EU law. It would ensure that the process of reviewing retained law does not cause as much uncertainty as the Government’s regulatory cliff edge is generating today. It would mean that important decisions about workers’ rights, environmental standards and consumer protections cannot happen by default, or worse, by accident. It would restore Parliament’s proper, sovereign role.
I know some have objected to the processes that created these EU laws in the first place. The Minister is one of them, I think, and I respect that view. He has said that he regarded that process as distant and undemocratic. I do not agree but he is entitled to hold that view. However, it is really difficult to take those complaints seriously when the Government are choosing to support the nonsensical, undemocratic Executive power grab that this Bill, as currently drafted, represents. It is reckless.
Your Lordships’ House, or the Government, should amend the Bill with a simple, straightforward process that sits much better within our constitutional traditions. My amendment is a common-sense amendment that respects the sovereignty of this Parliament, and I commend it. However, I would be very happy to work with noble Lords from all sides—indeed, I look forward to it—on coming together should the Government choose not to take the recommendation embodied by this group of amendments. We would be neglectful if we allowed this Bill to proceed any further without the safeguards that the amendments in this group would provide.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 42, 43 and 50 and the Clause 1 stand part debate, to which I have added my name.
What was clear from last week’s debate—we have alluded to it a number of times since then—is that the Government have absolutely no intention of providing a comprehensive list of retained EU law under the jurisdiction of this Bill. It is clear that the decisions taken by departments to retain, amend or revoke will be announced unilaterally via the dashboard. In the case of revoking, it is an act of either commission or omission—we will not know until we see it on the dashboard. However, if there is no list then we will not even know that something has been revoked. The former—the lack of a list—informs the latter: the fact that we will not know whether laws have been revoked or otherwise.
That is why this set of amendments, in the number of forms that we have seen, is so important. Through Amendment 32, we have heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, my noble friend Lord Beith, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, how the Government should set out in advance what they are seeking to do and give Parliament a chance to overrule the Executive and choose to retain specific named instruments, rather than waiting for the automatic disposal of these laws. The noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Kirkhope, in Amendment 44, and the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, in Amendment 141A, set out other ways of seeking to achieve a similar end. The point has been made that there are a number of ways of doing this.
It was a pleasure to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, set out Amendment 43, to which I have added my name; I was happy to do so because, in the amendment, she sets out very ably a process by which Parliament can retain its control over what is going on in this law. It would avoid the really important issue, to which I and other Peers have already alluded, of the unknown repeal of laws—that is, the accidental revocation or deliberate obfuscation of revocation that may happen as a result of this law. This is a well-drafted amendment that we would be very happy to see go forward.
Amendment 42, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Ludford, complements what we have heard already about a process of consultation, about how these laws and regulations should be consulted on. It sets out four objectives for the consultation. The first is to consider whether the legislation under review is fit for purpose. It may not be. Ministers have talked about reindeer and whatnot. I am sure that we do not really need those but there cannot be many of the 4,000 or so laws that refer to reindeer. Let us assume that that the majority of them are addressing areas of concern to the greater public. Are they fit for purpose?
The second objective is to consider whether alternative regulation would achieve different or preferable goals. The third objective is to consider whether alternative regulation would provide greater benefits to consumers, workers, businesses, the environment, animal welfare, and public safety, to name a few. The fourth objective is to consider whether alternative regulation would provide greater legal certainty, and there is a great deal of legal uncertainty coming the way of this Bill if it stays as it is. I cannot see why this approach is unreasonable, and I am sure that the Minister will agree with me and adopt this straightaway.
Much has been said about sunsetting. Some speakers on the Government Benches have set out their view that without sunsetting, departments would somehow be dragging their heels. The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, said last week to your Lordships that
“the sunset was introduced to incentivise departments to think boldly and constructively about their regulations and to remove unnecessary regulatory burdens.”—[
Just before lunch, we heard the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, say that the sunset’s purpose is to “incentivise genuine reform”. These confirm that the purpose of the sunset is, in the Government’s view, to get civil servants to get on with it. That may be so, but what is it that are they getting on with, or that the Government would have them get on with? I suggest that they are injecting the largest single slug of legislative uncertainty into national life that any of us can remember. I say to my noble friend Lord Beith that I am afraid that I do not go back to the 1600s, when it last happened—
I beg my noble friend’s pardon. Perhaps there is a reason why the departments might favour a slower, stepwise and consultative approach. We have also tabled an amendment that opposes Clause 1 standing part of the Bill. That is to give time to have that stepwise, considered and consultative approach, as many of us believe it should be. It removes the sunset altogether and it gives us time. Clearly, this element of the Bill, if not the others, was the product of the imagination of the Conservative MP for North East Somerset. This Bill is a legacy from his short-lived time in BEIS and, like almost everything produced in that thankfully brief period of administration, it delivers chaos and an unworkable Bill. The Government Front Bench might appreciate our help in removing this very difficult thing, for what will become a very difficult effort.
Finally in this group, my noble friend Lady Ludford and I have tabled Amendment 50, which seeks to deliver a super-affirmative process. I should point out that the dash comes between “super” and “affirmative”; it is the affirmation that is super, not the process. The process is for revoking EU-derived subordinate legislation or retained direct EU legislation. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, earlier. Once again, this is about parliamentary scrutiny. The amendment seeks to address the huge democratic shortcomings of this Bill, as outlined by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. In the “Bypassing Parliament” section of its report, the committee observes:
“The Bill gives to Ministers (rather than Parliament) the power to decide, in relation to a considerable amount of REUL, what is to be … revoked and not replaced … revoked and replaced with something broadly similar … revoked and replaced with something very different, or … retained.”
That is, in a nutshell, what we are discussing. The committee also noted:
“Parliament will not know, at the time it grants the powers, what the Government intend to do with those powers.”
I will not dwell on this amendment to create the super-affirmative process, except to highlight a couple of features. The first, under proposed new subsection (2), is:
“For each instrument that is proposed to be revoked, a Minister of the Crown must lay before Parliament … a draft of the regulations; and … a document which explains the draft regulations.”
As the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, said, there is a period of 30 days for this process.
Proposed new subsection (5) sets out:
“In preparing a draft statutory instrument containing the regulations, a Minister of the Crown must take account of … any representations … any resolution of either House of Parliament; and … any recommendations of a committee under subsection (4)”, which is about the committees to which the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, referred. This is a process of taking the Bill and trying to add a little democracy. The wider amendments that we discussed earlier are taking a larger slice of democracy, which I favour, but this has to be done at the very least.
At the end of Committee on the Professional Qualifications Bill, it was clear that there were huge problems at the heart of it. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, stood up and agreed with that. He then said—and I believe this is a quote—“We have to take this Bill on a holiday”. That is what the noble Lord did and the Bill was substantially revised and massively improved over that period of reflection, before it came back on Report. The Government Front Bench could think about that process very hard, because we are dealing with an even more substandard Bill here than we had with the Professional Qualifications Bill.
My Lords, I am absolutely amazed that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, has such faith in the bureaucrats of this country such that, if you do not give them deadlines, they will still keep to the timescale. It is remarkable when you think that one of the tasks of all our departments is to review their legislation to see whether it is still current. At intervals, Ministers have said that they will produce only one new law in return for two revoked, but nothing ever happens. This is one of the inadequacies of the system in which we live, but we will let that pass.
I listened to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, with great attention, as I always do. But this is the first time I actually agreed with most of them. Unlike the noble and learned Lord, I campaigned to leave the EU. I did not actually stand on people’s doorsteps and say, “We have a wonderful scheme here. We have a drastically undemocratic system of people living in Europe dictating the laws that we should have in this land. But we are not going to restore parliamentary democracy; we are going to hand over all this power to the Executive.” If I had said that on doorsteps, and people like me who wanted to leave the EU had put that argument forward widely, it is quite possible that we would not have left the EU at all.
I am spoiled for choice with the amendments I could back in this group, but I very much support the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and his Amendment 62A. I think that we need a sifting committee and the all-party one that he advocates is very much one that I would support.
I have been told that at least 40% of our retained EU legislation will be put back on the statute book unchanged. I suspect that that is a rather low estimate and will rise, particularly given what my noble friend Lord Benyon said about retention being the default position. There will not be much controversy about that and the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, could decide to do that by secondary legislation.
We then come to EU law that is completely irrelevant to this country. Isolated cases have been brought up, such as reindeer between Denmark and Sweden, and fishing in waters nowhere near the United Kingdom, as my noble friend Lord Benyon mentioned. We have also got the export of lemons. I do not think we are going to be doing a lot of that in the future—though with global warming, you never know, do you? Then we have got olive oil; I do not quite see us growing that number of olive trees in the near future, but it is obviously very important to the southern countries of the EU. All of that can certainly be binned, and I would not have thought that there would be any controversy about that whatever.
I suspect that the other amount of law that the Government are thinking of getting rid of, which is more difficult, is the area where there is already legislation in the United Kingdom which does this job better than the EU legislation. That is something which will have to be argued out, which is why I think the role of this cross-party committee could be critical.
We then come to other regulations which need very minor amendments. As we know, one person’s minor amendment is somebody else’s major amendment, so I would be more than happy that the committee viewed that legislation as well. If it was happy that the amendments were very minor—just changing dates and things of that sort—they could allow that through statutory instruments and secondary legislation. What is much more concerning is the ability that the Government seem to be giving themselves to scrap an EU law and introduce a completely new one. This is not what we voted for when we voted to leave the EU and is an extraordinary transfer of power. That is where I hoped that this committee would come in and say, “No, this must be dealt with by primary legislation.”
To sum up, I would be more than happy to back an amendment similar, if not identical, to that of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I will campaign among all the people I know to actually support it as well—and I think that I possibly represent one or two of the people who left the EU. If we do that, we might get an overwhelming majority which might make this Government change their mind.
I am very glad that I gave way to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. I hope that the Government will reflect on such criticism coming from such a quarter. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and I disagreed violently over Brexit, but the criticisms that he is making now, much more clearly than I could, are the criticisms that I want to make now. So the opposition to the Bill does not come under the remainer/leaver axis—it comes under the “good Government” axis.
There are just two points that I want to raise. I support the amendments in this group, particularly the amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, Amendments 39, 42 and 43. The first point I want to make is about unannounced repeal—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beith—although it is unannounced and undiscussed repeal that really bothers me. The other is about default.
On unannounced and undiscussed repeal, when we were last in Committee, on Tuesday, I asked what Parliamentary procedure would be available when a Minister decides that a piece of our law should be abolished. What procedure will enable Parliament to debate that decision? The Minister replying to the debate said that she would reflect on the point that I had made. I have not yet heard an answer, but it seems to me rather a significant point. Here we have a situation which I believe is improper in constitutional terms—and it is certainly absurd in practical terms that laws should disappear by administrative fiat, privately. I do not know how courts will be expected to apply that, and I do not know how citizens are expected to behave in relation to the law, if changes in the law have been made by administrative fiat, privately. I think it is constitutionally improper that that should happen without the opportunity for some discussion in this this place and the other place. I think it is important to address the question that has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and I hope we are about to hear an answer.
The noble Lord’s speech is quite intriguing. I have a question for him, although I do not know whether he will be able to answer it here and now. Is he suggesting that, if a piece of law were to be revoked because it was not included on the dashboard and had not been discovered through the search process, and that piece of law is later identified by a citizen and relied on in order to take a case to a court, that court would then have to determine whether that piece of law was retained EU law? What effect would that have on the deliberations of that court at that point?
That is exactly the point I was going to address under my second heading, “default”. As I read the Bill, those laws that are not identified in time automatically vanish. As I read the Bill, when the clock strikes midnight at the end of the year, anything that has been omitted but is still the law of the land on
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for having not spoken at Second Reading, but I am keen to support the principle behind this group of amendments, and I am pleased to have put my name to Amendment 141A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. At an earlier stage of this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, described it as a beta-gamma piece of legislation. I think he was being a bit kind. Omega strikes me as being more suitable. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said at an earlier stage as well, although I obviously say that from a different political view. He wanted to understand how a Conservative Government could produce this Bill. I cannot understand how any Government could produce this Bill, Conservative or otherwise.
However, the Bill is with us and at the very least it needs amending severely. All the amendments are in different ways saying very much the same thing: give Parliament its proper role in deciding what legislation should be repealed or replaced. I do not understand how a Government who only this week have, perhaps rightly, boasted of their democratic credentials in terms of an important announcement can produce a piece of legislation like this that just gives power to the Executive and, frankly, bypasses Parliament. If it was not so serious, you would think this was a toytown Bill and a toytown piece of legislation. It is really not worthy of any British Government, which is why I very much support the principle behind these amendments and hope even more that the Government will see the good sense in them.
My Lords, I rise not least to celebrate the fact that I agree so strongly with my noble friend Lord Hamilton. We are as one, and it does not matter what we thought when it came to the referendum. Everybody knows that I am a passionate remainer, but I am one of those who draws a line under that because I want to get on, with Britain, which I believe we have to. I want to do that in the British way and, surprisingly enough, in the Conservative way. That means three very simple things, and these amendments enable us to do them.
The first thing is that you do not ignore the past. You say, “This is where we are. How do we improve it? What was going wrong and what can we celebrate?” For 40 years we played our part in a particular process. We now do not want to do that, but the process has ended with where we are. A normal way of dealing with this is, as the noble Baroness rightly said, like after a general election. You do not say, “All that was old rubbish; I will get rid of the whole lot and we will start again”. No one has ever done that in Britain, and that has been our strength. You say, “This is where we are and these are the things we have to change”, and you change them publicly so that everybody knows and has confidence. That is how we do it.
That is why I agree so much with my noble friend Lord Hamilton. What he is really saying is that this is the British way and the Conservative way. Others do not want it to be the Conservative way, but the one thing we can all agree on is that it is the British way. We have to say that this is not a Conservative Bill, and I do not think it a British Bill either because it is not like us; it is not what we do. What we do is what is in these amendments.
That brings me to the second thing. We need parliamentary scrutiny because that is what we believe in. We do not want Ministers to make these decisions, because any of us who has been a Minister knows perfectly well that it is very dangerous to leave us with decisions such as this. One of the great strengths you have as a Minister is to be able to say to civil servants, “I can’t get that through Parliament. You may think that’s a jolly good idea but, frankly, if I go in front of Parliament with that they’ll boo me off. I’m not doing it.” It is a hugely important element. There is nothing of that in this Bill. There is no way that anybody is going to say to any Minister, however charming and remarkable—as the Minister responsible is, in both cases—“Minister, I am afraid we want to do this”, and that he can turn around and say not just “I don’t agree” but simply “I couldn’t get it through Parliament”. But that is among the most important strengths of Ministers. One learns very soon that it restrains not only your own imagination to do ridiculous things—we all have those moments—but the way the whole system tends to believe that it is right. Every now and again, it has to be reminded that it is not.
There is a third reason why we need a range of these amendments. I agree with those who have said that the Government could probably come forward with a mixture of these; we would all be willing to support that. I will concentrate on this tiny example: we have a law that we do not happen to have noticed could be called an EU-derived law. I put it like that because it is sometimes quite difficult to tell. We had an odd way of doing it. Most countries took EU law into their own law automatically. We did not; we were far too snooty for that. Surprisingly, we brought it through Parliament because we thought there had to be a parliamentary mechanism.
Therefore, an awful lot of this law looks like British law, because that is what it is. That is exactly the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge: we wrote it, and very often we wrote it badly. I remember it so often: if we were not very careful, we gold-plated it. Civil servants would come to us and say, “Minister, there is a problem here. If you imagine circumstances where someone does this and someone else does something else, we do not quite cover that. Better not leave it, Minister; put this in for safety.” I am afraid that some Ministers—not me, I hope—agreed to that. In it went, and if it was bad then we blamed the EU. That was how it all worked.
The issue remains that this law is British law and it looks like British law. Much of it has been identified but some has not. What happens if that which has not been identified just drops away? What happens is that the British people have had a really dangerous scam played on them. The first principle of law is that people know it. That is why you cannot say, “I am ignorant of the law and therefore should not be prosecuted.” You have to accept that you know the law, and the law has to be there for you to know it. Here is a circumstance where the law would not be there for you to know it. You could therefore easily not be covered by something or have the protection that you thought you had, and all sorts of other issues might arise, and you would not know until it went to court. When it got to court, what would the courts do? First, they would have to say that there was not a law, and, secondly, they would not be able to allow any of the interpretation of that law when it was there which had been extant.
It is on that point that I want to finish. I am repeating myself because I have said this on an earlier amendment, but it is important. The way in which the law works in Britain is that it is not just virgin; it changes as it is applied. People find difficulties with it and the courts find ways of dealing with those difficulties. If they cannot do so then it comes back to Parliament, but usually they can. It is therefore that law as interpreted over the years that becomes so useful, valuable and in touch with people.
What is worst about the Bill—apart from giving Ministers powers that they should never have—is the idea that we should throw away 40 years of experience of how the law works, how it deals with things, how people have reacted to it, where the problems have come and where the advantages are. That is an attitude towards waste that I as an environmentalist dislike fundamentally. We need a circular economy; in other words, you use and reuse all that can be used and reused. What you do not do is give Ministers powers that they should not have, remove restrictions that they and the law should have and do so pretending that it is democratic, when in fact it is neither Conservative nor British.
My Lords, as the former Permanent Secretary to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, I would like to tell your Lordships that that is how he was as Secretary of State. I am so proud of the speech that he made, because I agree with it all. I also agree very much with the noble and learned Lord’s amendment.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, should begin to be a little concerned that former civil servants and diplomats are beginning to mobilise behind him, because I agree with virtually everything that he said, which should be unnerving—except for one point. I want to focus on the idea of “incentivising” the Civil Service. The view that I have expressed already is that the work should have been done in government before the legislation was introduced, and that is still my view. We are discussing an administrative task, not a legislative one. I know that the noble Lord knows how to incentivise the Civil Service, because in the 1980s, when I worked for Mrs Thatcher, he used to sit in the Cabinet Room behind her listening to her “incentivising” her Ministers and civil servants. Although I cannot see him right now, he jolly well knows how it is done.
What we should have is the Bill being paused or withdrawn. The Prime Minister should assemble all the Permanent Secretaries, together with the heads of the Civil Service, and the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, who is sitting on the Front Bench. Then he should say to them, “I want this sorted out by the end of, say, June”—the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, described this accurately. After they report back, the Government should then introduce in Parliament whatever legislation is needed to implement it. We would then have something to discuss, rather than operating in a policy void as now.
By all means, let us accept one of these amendments—I would go for that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge—but let us recognise that this is an administrative task. It should have been handled properly, in an administrative way, before Parliament had to spend time on it.
My Lords, it is a great delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, with whom I have university connections, and even more of a delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Deben, with whom I used to joust in the Cambridge Union more years ago than I can remember. He was persuasive then and he is persuasive now.
Before I speak to the two proposals I have put my name to, I will just refer to what my noble friend Lord Whitty said about the devolution of laws when the Empire, or the Commonwealth, was broken up. He was entirely accurate in what he said to your Lordships. I raise this point because I remember particularly that, several years ago, I was defending an accused who had been convicted in the courts of Jamaica. He was attempting to appeal to the Privy Council in London and I was his counsel. We had to refer back to the relevant laws in Jamaica and, in doing so, to go back to a homicide Act of 1926 and to a Court of Appeal presided over by Lord Reading. That was disastrous to my client’s case. I am very happy to tell your Lordships two things: first, that my client was relieved of the death penalty which hung over his head when I took on his defence and, secondly, that in Jamaica they paid swift attention to those out-of-date laws, so that Lord Reading’s pronouncement is no longer binding in Jamaica. That is the process which one would expect to happen if we adopted EU law, as I say we should; then if something uncomfortable comes to our attention, it is dealt with in a fair and swift way.
The two proposals that I have put my name to are Amendment 42 and the opposition to Clause 1 standing part of the Bill. I will also speak to my noble friend Lord Whitty’s Amendment 44A. I would like to address the parliamentary consequences of any of those amendments being voted in on Report. Given the large opposition that has been put to a number of provisions in the Bill, which is exactly what these three proposals are doing, the high chances are that they will succeed in Divisions on Report. The consequence of that, which we should take strongly in mind, is that it would kill the Bill because all three start from the premise that Clause 1 should be left out. I think the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has a different introduction, so let us just refer to those three and their consequences.
The consequence would be that the Bill would be effectively lost in this House. It is possible that the House of Commons would disagree with the amendment, and we would get involved in ping-pong. If we hold firm—I have been asking my Front Bench to hold firm because constitutionally we are entitled to hold our ground and to say to the House of Commons, “You can’t remove the provision that we voted on here”—the Bill would be completely lost. It would fall under the Parliament Act and the delay that the Act would impose on the Government would be quite fatal for this Bill.
This leads me to say again that I am very sympathetic to the Government Front Bench. I said that on the first day of Committee. I would have said it again at the end of the second day on Tuesday, but unfortunately our debate that day ended rather abruptly, and I was unable to express that. I am very obviously sympathetic to the Front Bench because they are arguing an unarguable case. I am also sympathetic to them because a number of noble lords on all sides of the Committee—not just the Liberal and Cross Benches but those on the Government side, including the noble Lord, Lord Cormack and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh—have quite firmly said that this Bill should be withdrawn. That does make it quite difficult for the Front Bench.
However, they could be rescued by the Government and that is why I am delighted the Lord Privy Seal is here. He is having a chat at the moment, but if I could just address him. He is of course in the Cabinet where I am sure he is influential. The Government Chief Whip is here—another critical member of the Government. They are in a position to convey to the Cabinet and the Government that this is an unsatisfactory Bill. Perhaps through their good advocacy we will lose this Bill altogether, and be grateful.
I will make two very short points because so many of the points have been made more eloquently by previous speakers. First, the amendments we are discussing are not substitutes for removing the cut-off at the end of 2023. They are complementary to it for two reasons. The processes quite rightly being proposed could not all be got through in the time available before the end of this year; you also solve the cart and horses problem by removing the 2023 date. I hope we will not forget that when we come back to all this on Report, and we will see these two things as complementary.
Secondly, the arguments about the EU-based legislation that is completely immaterial to us—on reindeers, lemon exports and so on—are completely irrelevant. If you go back through the last 500 years of statutes past, the statute book is full of things that are completely irrelevant to the way we live now, and which are not enforced or implemented in any way. We do not seem to lose any sleep over it. Let us not lose any sleep over the reindeers or they will not bring the Christmas stocking with them.
My Lords, I have not signed any amendments in this group—I was not asked, and I was not quick enough to get my name down. All of the issues have been covered absolutely amazingly by other noble Lords, so I will restrict myself to talking about the politics. The politics of this particular Bill are extremely interesting. I support all the amendments in the first group, simply because they are sensible and practical, and I like practical outcomes. But, at the same time, we ought to throw the whole clause out, and I do not see any option to do that. We want a democracy when we have finished voting on the Bill and, if it goes through as it is, we will not have one.
I will ask two political questions. First, why do we have the Bill at all? Quite honestly, it is terrible piece of legislation that is absolutely outrageous. In the 10 years I have been here, I have almost never had a glimmer of sympathy for the Government. But, having seen the Bill, I do: it is like the last gasp of a dying creature, and that dying creature is the popular Tory party of 2019, when it actually had some credibility and popularity, as I said. That has seeped and ebbed away, to the point that it is now in the most extraordinary position and putting forward legislation like this. It is an ideological monstrosity that caters to the worst parts of the right wing of the Tory party, and it will not have support.
I think the Conservative Party expects to run out into the streets and say, “We did it—we got rid of all EU law. Brexit has finally happened”. But, of course, that is simply not true: a lot of this is not EU law but British law. I am sure that the Minister himself had a hand in producing some of it, as a Member of the European Parliament. For anyone who has been in the European Parliament to say that this is pure EU law is complete nonsense. I do not want to accuse the Minister of telling lies, but it is nonsense. So why is it here? Is it here because the Conservative Party wants to get some sort of popularity or something? Why is it here? It is not a worthwhile Bill; it is a ludicrous Bill to bring here. There has been so much learned opposition, but still the Government insist on pushing it through.
My second political question is: what happens afterwards? Of course, it is all very well to put this through, but what happens when Labour is in government? Will the Conservative Party really be happy that Labour has these powers and can just whip out a piece of legislation and give Ministers all these powers? It is not a democracy when you give so much power to Ministers. That is not what Brexit was about—and I say that as somebody who voted for Brexit. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that he is perhaps a rejoiner now, not a remoaner—sorry, I mean remainer. It is perhaps time we understood that the damage has been done and this just creates more damage. It is time to drop the Bill. We will not have a democracy if it goes through.
My Lords, I am pleased that everybody who has spoken in this debate is pulling in the same direction, which is an effort to rescue the Government from themselves. It is not only former diplomats and civil servants, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, who applaud the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom; I am afraid to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, that it is also Liberal Democrats as well, which might be even more upsetting to him. But we are all, at least partially, on the same page as the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, and I do hope that we will be able to rally round a single powerful amendment for Report, based on elements of all of the laudable amendments in this group.
What has been brought out in the debate are the contradictions and hypocrisy of criticising the EU legislative process—which I happen to believe was democratic, but I will leave that there. But, even if you do not, introducing rule by executive diktat does not seem a very intelligent response to your criticism of EU lawmaking.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who cited the report of the Constitution Committee; I think we are all grateful not only to that committee but to the Delegated Powers and secondary legislation committees—we have with us the former chair of the SLSC, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who supervised the work for that committee’s report on this Bill before he stepped down. The DPRRC not only described the Bill, as we have frequently said, as “hyper-skeletal” but noted that approach taken by the Government
“contradicts pledges by the Government since 2018 that Parliament would be the agent of substantive policy change in these areas”.
Instead, they have made the Bill
“a blank cheque placed in the hands of Ministers”.
That is our objection. The Government would be wise to go back and think about what they are doing in this Bill. We are trying to put some order and reasonableness into the way it is being done. We are having to do a lot of the work that should have been done before the Bill was introduced. All the amendments, whether the one led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and supported by my noble friend Lord Beith, or those led by my noble friend Lord Fox, the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, in one way or another seek to avoid the deletion of unidentified law unintentionally and to allow Parliament rather than Ministers control in a considered, explained, transparent and accountable way. Seriously, what is not to like about those two objectives?
We heard some nice phrases in the debate. It was said that we wanted to avoid the “unannounced repeal” of legislation, which was translated perhaps in a rather more blunt, northern way, if I may say so to my noble friend Lord Beith, as “washing stuff down the plughole”. We heard about a “circular economy” of the law from the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I might recycle that—oh, dear—at some point. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, described the processes in the Bill as “bizarre” and “constitutionally improper”. Several amendments, including Amendment 42, led by my noble friend Lord Fox, seek to avoid the default loss of laws that our citizens will not even know they have lost—various speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, mentioned the effect of that.
So we are trying to establish default retention and to build in specification of objectives for any revocation. A lot of the amendments are sister amendments to those debated on Tuesday in an earlier group—we had Amendment 48 on consultation and reporting. All of them aim to introduce a reasonable, considered, parliamentary way of doing things which will not surprise all the businesses, unions, consumers, employees and so on, who will not know what on earth is going on.
I realise that Amendment 50, which proposes a super-affirmative process for revocation, may offend the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, and my noble friend Lord Beith about amendable SIs, but I am sure that, with the skill of both those very experienced parliamentarians, we will be able to think of a better way of drafting everything. But I think that all the aims that we have debated in this group are worth pursuing.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is perfectly right to warn us against the risk of a deluge of actions for judicial review of ministerial decisions. Is that really the prospect that the Government want to build up? With parliamentarians being asked to grant Ministers this licence to legislate on thousands of legal instruments, without any clear, substantive policy, they are racking up problems not only for everybody in the real world in this country but for themselves. It is right that we ask them to go away and consider that. If they really want the Bill—instead of the things that we on these Benches would prefer through primary legislation, such as the Financial Services and Markets Bill and other Bills—and insist on it, they have to produce something that can be understood by the public, by Parliament and indeed by the Government themselves. As we saw in the reaction of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which found that the impact assessment accompanying the Bill was not fit for purpose, the Government do not really know what they are doing with the Bill. No reason has been provided as to why it is necessary to reform so much law in one Bill so rapidly.
I hope that the Minister will respond, not just in a dismissive way but in a way which pays tribute to the voices heard in the debate—from people with long experience of government, whether in Whitehall, Westminster or other spheres—and explain to us why the Government need to prioritise speed and executive control over accountable, considered and transparent lawmaking. They have not convinced this Committee. They would be wise to take what is being said and maybe have a holiday—I think we would all like a holiday from the Bill—and come back with something that actually makes some sense.
My Lords, very briefly, I support this group of important amendments. In particular, I support Amendment 43 in the names of my noble friend Lady Chapman of Darlington and the noble Lord, Lord Fox. Through it, only legislation identified and approved by Parliament could be revoked, and that is the responsible, democratic and considered way to proceed.
Amendment 43 would put responsibility for a timetable of revocation back with Parliament, so that the Government cannot claim that it is an open-ended approach. It also begins to answer the very important questions around the complete lack of executive accountability raised by our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. So many sectors and people are affected by the Bill and do not want Parliament to be taken for granted, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, put it.
I will concentrate for half a minute on consumer protection. As the vice-president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, I will reflect some of the fears raised with me over the past weeks and months.
We discussed consumer protections in an earlier group. The noble Baroness may have made the same points then. I do not see the point of repeating the same arguments yet again. If she has some points to make on the amendments we are discussing today, perhaps she would like to make them.
The Minister has not heard what points I make; I do not know how he can say I am making the same points. The Bill affects sectors right across the UK—people, businesses, trade unions and consumers—and that is why I am raising this. I think the Minister should not have intervened. It is Committee and I have every right to make a minute’s worth of comment.
My Lords, this has been a very educational debate. On Monday this week, two groups of sixth-formers came to visit me here and we discussed things upstairs in Committee Room 1, chosen specifically because of its judicial resonance. They are studying for their A-level exams and the question they put to me was about Parliament’s role in scrutinising the Executive: how effective is it? They were very sharp and on the ball, and they wanted to know and to have examples. But when it comes to the Bill we are discussing today, I could not possibly say that this is a good example of Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the Executive. This Government, we know, claim that their major policy success was to take back control—but in my view it was never to take back control to the Executive but to Parliament. I am heartened by the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Hodgson, because I see reflected in both of them a wish to see Parliament as the centre of decision-making in Britain—the Executive are a part of it but Parliament is the heart of it.
We have a number of amendments before us, Amendments 32, 141A, 43, 44, 62A and so on, and each in its own way has a contribution to make. I would be minded to support them all because, whatever happens as a result of the debates we have on the Bill, everybody knows we need proper parliamentary scrutiny of what is about to happen—we do not even know what is going to happen to the vast range of legislation to be covered by the Bill.
History will not regard this Government well if future students of politics, of the kind I talked to on Monday, reach the conclusion that Parliament has lost its ability to scrutinise the Executive. In finishing, I quote one Member’s explanatory statement for one of the amendments we are discussing today: it seeks to give
“Parliament the ability to scrutinise these decisions. It would also allow Parliament to overrule the Executive”.
That is exactly what parliamentary democracy is supposed to be about.
I shall be very brief, because I can see we are testing the Minister’s patience. He perhaps needs to indulge in some breathing exercises or something—maybe yoga, I do not know. We are not deliberately detaining Ministers here; we are trying to do our jobs thoroughly.
I quite rudely interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, earlier, in my enthusiasm to understand the point he was trying to make. He needed no help from me in making his case, but I do not want the point to get lost when the Minister responds. The noble Lord asked a really important question about what is going to happen if a piece of law is lost because the search process did not identify it. How will a court know that it should not be adjudicating based on that piece of law? How will a citizen know that a piece of law is no longer applicable because it was lost as a result of this process? This is such an important point that has not come up before this group of amendments. It will be very difficult for us to engage positively with subsequent groups without having a full, comprehensive answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I do not want that to get lost in what I am sure is going to be a comprehensive and enlightening response from the Minister.
I thank the noble Baroness for her suggestion of doing some breathing exercises. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, if I was maybe a bit short, but I was seeking to make the point that we had a debate on consumer protection policies on an earlier day in Committee, and I thought she was about to repeat the points that had been made. I am trying to get the House to focus on the amendments we are discussing, because we are making very slow progress. Be that as it may, I realise that noble Lords want to make their general points as well.
Yet again, we have had a lively debate. I and other Ministers have listened closely to the points that noble Lords have made; I hope I will satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, in that I will not be dismissive of them. It is my job to set out the Government’s position on the amendments we are discussing. I am not dismissing noble Lords’ concerns at all, but I suspect that we will have a difference of opinion. Nevertheless, let me give it a go.
I start with Amendment 32 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, relating to the operation of the sunset clause and additional layers of scrutiny. It is similar to Amendment 50 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, which would in effect ensure that retained EU law remains on the statute book unless specified by regulations which have gone through a super-affirmative procedure. In essence, this amendment would block—I think he knows this—the UK from conducting the economic reforms we want to see to drive much-needed growth. Our position is that making it harder to remove regulations—I understand why noble Lords want to do that—would hamper the UK’s growth, be detrimental to the UK and fundamentally undermine the aims of the Bill. I understand that many noble Lords want fundamentally to undermine the aims of the Bill, but this is not something that the Government can accept.
I agree with noble Lords; it is of course right that we ensure that any reforms to retained EU law receive proper scrutiny. That is why we have already ensured that the Bill contains robust mechanisms that will enable the appropriate level of scrutiny of any amendments to retained EU law made by the powers included in the Bill. This includes a sifting procedure that will apply to regulations under Clauses 12, 13 and 15 to ensure that Parliament can assess the suitability of the procedures being used for statutory instruments.
Once the Bill—I hope—receives Royal Assent, work on reform will continue in individual departments. They will prioritise some of the work they are already doing in areas of retained EU law reform and lay all the appropriate statutory instruments. The process will include, as appropriate, designing policy and services, conducting all the necessary stakeholder consultations, drafting the necessary impact assessments and supporting any individuals who may be impacted by any such reform.
Amendments 42 and 43 propose to remove the sunset entirely and replace it with systems individually to revoke each piece of retained EU law, with specifications for unnecessary parliamentary approval or limitations that mean that legislation can be revoked only in line with a fairly cumbersome and, in my view, needlessly complex list of criteria. Again, I do not expect noble Lords to agree with me on this, but the Government’s position is that the sunset is an integral part of the Bill’s policy. It ensures that we are proactively choosing to preserve EU laws only when they are in the best interests of the United Kingdom. However, I appreciate that the public should know how much legislation is derived from the EU and the progress the Government are making to reform it. For that reason, we have published the dashboard containing this list of government retained EU law, about which there has been much discussion.
This dashboard will also document the Government’s progress on reforming retained EU law and will be updated regularly to reflect plans and actions taken. We intend to be clear and transparent throughout the process and when exercising the powers in the Bill, if they are approved by Parliament. In our view, introducing another burdensome process that does not efficiently allow us to remove inoperable and outdated legislation is not good practice.
Amendment 44, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, would entirely undermine the ambition of the Bill by replacing the sunset with a full-time commission that would consider retained EU law over—I think it is fair to say—a much longer period. Considering that work to review and take action on retained EU law before the sunset date is already well under way across all departments and is being done by those who already have the expertise in these policy areas, I submit to the noble Lord that this alternative is entirely unnecessary. It would be little more than a talking shop at a time when the UK should be focused on this sensible reform which will help the economy to grow.
Any amendments making it harder to remove regulations that hamper the UK’s growth would undermine the ambitions and fundamental point of the Bill and the accompanying government programme. I understand that many Members want to undermine the fundamental purpose of the Bill, but the Government cannot accept that.
It is a long-established principle that removing and reforming unnecessary and outdated regulation will help the economy to grow. I certainly believe that; the noble Lord might disagree with me but that is my position.
Ultimately, this is a political point. The most successful economies in the world are those which have relatively low levels of regulation. The noble Lord and I may have a political difference, but I am sure that we can all propose lots of different examples from think tanks and studies for our different political positions.
Can the Minister explain exactly what will be retained and what will not? He said that work was under way in departments and implied that stakeholder consultation would be a critical part of that. Can he confirm whether there has been any consultation with trade unions on, for example, the working time directive? Although there has been discussion about active removal of legislation, there is real concern that vital protections will be actively allowed to fall off that cliff edge, such as the working time directive. Has there been any consultation with key stakeholders so far? Which particular pieces of legislation will be allowed to fall off as opposed to just falling off by accident? Currently, employers and unions certainly do not know.
I know that the noble Baroness feels passionately about labour regulations. We had an extensive debate about this in the first grouping, on labour law. I am happy to go through the issues with her again if she wishes but she knows that the Government’s position is that UK workers’ rights on maternity provision, holiday pay, the minimum wage and so on substantially exceed the basic standards in EU law and those in many other EU countries. Our commitment to workers’ rights is substantial, as I said to the noble Baroness when we discussed this at great length the other day. The department is currently reviewing labour law in the context of maintaining high standards on workers’ rights. When that work is complete, if any new statutory instruments are brought forward, the normal process of consultation will apply. I am sure that that will result in consultations with the trade unions as well.
I am not quite sure that the Minister has grasped the point of the noble Baroness. She is asking about legislation that will disappear. The problem with this is that it may involve legislation that requires people to spend money or conduct some other activity; they will not know that it has disappeared and will go on spending the money, and there is no way to get it back again. The noble Baroness raises quite a serious point about the lack of knowledge and the difficulty of things disappearing without their being identified before the disappearance happens.
I know that many noble Lords want to make the point that, somehow, major pieces of retained EU law will suddenly just accidentally disappear from the statute book. We have conducted a very authoritative process of assessing what is retained EU law and what is not, and we are very satisfied that departments know exactly the legislation for which they are responsible.
It is not entirely clear—this goes back to a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, made the other day, with which I agree—because successive Governments over the years have used different processes to assimilate what was an EU obligation into UK law. Even if departments know what law they are responsible for, they do not necessarily know the process by which it was introduced, or whether that law was as a result of an EU obligation or not. The Government introduced earlier amendments to remove any legal risk of an SI being quashed if it contained a provision preserved as REUL that later turned out not to be one. Our advice to departments is that where they are not sure, it should be preserved.
Can I explain this point please, and then I will take the intervention from the noble Lord?
We are satisfied that departments know the law for which they are responsible. They do not yet know whether it is a retained EU law—in other words, whether it was done in respect of an EU obligation or not. The default position that we are suggesting is that it should be retained if they are not sure, but we have tabled an SI to put that position beyond doubt. I will take one more intervention on this.
I apologise for my enthusiasm causing a truncation of the Minister’s response. Does he at least understand, if he does not accept, that as long as the Government resist suggestions such as come through in these amendments, whereby a list of the laws that are covered by the Bill is laid before Parliament and officially and definitively made available—not a catalogue, as we have been promised but a definitive and complete list, of the sort of laws that not only the noble Baroness but all of us feel passionately about—we are bound to be fuelled by distrust?
Before the Minister replies, I add that what the Minister is saying now directly contradicts the letter we had the other day from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, which we discussed. The distinction is made by the Government between an authoritative catalogue and a comprehensive list. The Government admit that the dashboard is not comprehensive, so how can each department possibly know all the EU law it is responsible for? As anyone can, I can give examples—and I am grateful to the organisation Justice, of which I should declare I am a vice-president, for giving two examples of direct effect treaty articles and directive clauses which are not on the dashboard, which cites only 28 in that category. That is Article 157 of the treaty and a clause of the habitats directive. They are not on the dashboard, so how are we meant to believe that departments know exactly what law they are dealing with?
I just explained that point in my earlier answer. The noble Baroness can look at Hansard and come back to me if she is not satisfied with that explanation.
To go back to the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, let us accept for the purposes of making his point that, as he said, huge swathes of vital REUL will somehow accidentally disappear. The Government do not accept that; we think it is extremely unlikely. However, I understand the point he makes. I refer him to the answer that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe gave to a similar question yesterday. We understand the point that noble Lords are making, we will reflect on that issue and, if necessary, come back to it. Without making any promises, we will reflect on whether that is possible. Obviously, being a member of the Government, I trust them, but I accept that other noble Lords may not have the same faith in what we are doing. It is essentially intended to be a constructive process.
Moving on, Amendment 44A seeks to omit the sunset from the Bill and allow the repeal, revocation or amendment of retained EU law to be carried out only via primary legislation. Currently we are unable to keep retained direct EU legislation up to date with new advances, precisely because of that problem—because some of it is regarded as primary legislation. For those who still wish us to reflect EU law, we cannot even update it in line with any EU changes or new advances because, if we decided to do so, we would need to do it through primary legislation, and parliamentary time does not allow for that. This is creating more legal and business uncertainty, as regulations become more and more out of date and burdensome. The Bill is therefore designed to rectify this issue. This amendment, however, would instead maintain the status quo, which we do not believe is either helpful or beneficial to anyone. Again, I understand that, if people wanted to undermine the fundamental purpose of the Bill, they would support that amendment.
Does my noble friend accept that that is an argument against democracy? Evidently, because it is difficult, we are going to change the law without asking Parliament. My noble friend has made an argument against democracy; that is what we are arguing about.
Let me explain the position. We are downgrading the status, if it needs to be changed through primary legislation—if it was introduced by the EU, through what I would submit was a relatively undemocratic process, in that Parliament had no say on it in the first place—so that if we wish to change the law, it will be changed through secondary legislation, which, as my noble friend very well knows, Parliament will of course get a say on. There are approximately 3,700 pieces of secondary retained EU law. Some of these are inoperable, outdated or not the best fit for our economy. Amending secondary retained EU legislation through sector-specific primary legislation, where it cannot be amended by existing delegated powers, would take decades and would not allow the UK to seize the opportunities of Brexit swiftly. Let me give the Committee an example to help noble Lords understand how long it would take to change all these pieces of law through primary legislation. The Procurement Bill was introduced in May 2022 and addresses only four pieces of retained EU law but contains more than 350 separate EU regulations.
Amendment 62A would replace the repeal of Section 4 with a committee providing advice to Parliament on actions over a five-year period. This would unnecessarily delay the actions being taken by this Bill to bring clarity to the complex legal effects that currently apply to business and citizens in this country. The amendment may be seeking to effect a broader replacement of the Bill’s sunset of retained EU law, although the amendment concerns Clause 3 only. The arguments on the sunset have already been addressed, although I highlight again that, in our view, a sunset is the quickest and most efficient way to achieve much-needed reform and planning for future regulatory changes. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will agree not to press his amendment.
Finally, I will move on to Amendment 141A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. The amendment would impose a set of criteria with which Ministers must comply to exercise the powers to revoke or replace. These criteria would result in legislation that is made under the powers being subject to the super-affirmative procedure. The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that we have in place the right regulations that we think are the right fit for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is our view that it is only right that unduly burdensome and outdated regulations can be revoked or replaced with regulations that are proportionate. Requiring that the powers are subject to additional scrutiny is not appropriate, in our view, and requiring that legislation be subject to further scrutiny through the super-affirmative procedure would not be an effective use of parliamentary time and would result in delaying departmental delivery plans for REUL reform. This would place additional pressure on parliamentary time and could delay the Bill in delivering its objective of bringing about REUL reform. For that reason, the Government cannot accept this amendment.
In summary, Clause 1 is the backbone of this Bill. It sets the framework for an ambitious and efficient overhaul of all retained EU law that remains, in my view, a far too prominent feature of the UK’s statute book.
I think I understood from what the Minister said a few moments ago that I will not get an answer to the question I posed on Tuesday. This time I think he said that he understood the point and would reflect on it. I do not quite know what that means but it is certainly an advance on Tuesday’s position, when the Government were just going to reflect. If we have now reached understanding the point, then we are on the right track.
The point about default is whether we are risking a situation where the courts next year, and in the following years, will have to rule in cases on whether a newly discovered piece of law was retained EU law and therefore died at the end of this year or was not retained EU law and is therefore still in effect. Is it sensible that the default is that the Act is dead? Would not a more sensible default position be that the currently undiscovered but in due course discovered Act remains in force until it is repealed, amended or prolonged? I just do not understand why that uncertainty must be introduced.
For the purposes of clarification, I was merely repeating a similar point to the one made by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. We will reflect on whether it is possible to publish a comprehensive list of laws that might sunset.
I return to the point I made earlier: we are satisfied that the department has identified all the laws for which it is responsible. Lawyers are currently going through it all and our advice to them is that if they are not sure whether or not a law is retained EU law, they should default to preserving it if they think it is important. I hope that answers the noble Lord’s point.
As I was saying, Clause 1 is the backbone of the Bill. It sets the framework for an ambitious and efficient overhaul of all retained EU law. The amendments tabled by noble Lords would add unnecessary time and complex burdens to this process, which, of course, may be the purpose of many of them.
Amendment 43 puts a safety net around measures that may be lost because they were not identified by the Government. The situation that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, identified sounds horrific. You would be in a situation where the Government have, through this Bill, decided that something is revoked but nobody has told anybody that it is revoked. The Government have not even told themselves that it is revoked, so is it revoked? My amendment would help deal with that. The Minister might be attracted to at least considering that.
I think I referred to that in an earlier part of my speech. I addressed Amendments 42 and 43, but it all comes back to this central point of the so-called accidental sunsetting that noble Lords have raised. The noble Baroness’s amendments propose to remove the sunset entirely and replace it with systems to individually revoke each piece of EU law. I did refer to that earlier, but I will look back at what I said and if I did not refer to that directly, I will write to her. The Government think that the sunset is appropriate. I entirely accept that many Members of this House do not, but the elected House of Commons certainly did, by large majorities.
I think that I have covered most of the points now. Noble Lords might not like the answers very much but that is the Government’s position.
One issue that I have not understood the Minister to have dealt with is the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, on democracy.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and I had a political difference on that point. He seems to think that secondary legislation is somehow undemocratic. If those making this complaint were to look back through Hansard to see whether they made the same complaint about the way that the law was introduced into UK law in the first place, I would have a little more sympathy with their argument. This is an essentially political disagreement about which is the most appropriate way to proceed. The Government have been elected with a big majority. One of the backbones of our programme was to get Brexit done.
I think I have already taken two interventions from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, but I will take one more.
I thank the Minister; I appreciate it. I thought he dealt with the democracy issue, to some extent, and cited that it was inconvenient to have to have primary law. The Minister used the Procurement Bill as his paradigm. Sitting next to him is the Lord Privy Seal, who, in a previous guise, brought forward the Procurement Bill—along with the 350-plus government amendments that accompanied it, because it was so badly drafted. If that Bill is a paradigm for anything, it is a paradigm for this Bill and the poor drafting of legislation.
I do not think I ever used the word “inconvenient”, but reforming all this by primary legislation, whatever view you take of it, would take many years, if not decades.
I have given the Government’s response to these amendments and, if noble Lords will forgive me, I will not take any more interventions. The points being made do not address individual amendments; they are general debating points, many of which were dealt with at Second Reading.
My Lords, if it would help the Committee, I understand that this is an extremely controversial Bill for many Members of your Lordships’ House. A good deal of time is being taken over it, which is your Lordships’ pleasure. On the question of interruptions, this is Committee and Members are free to speak more than once, but we make good progress if we allow all noble Lords to develop and complete an argument.
While the Companion says:
“A member of the House who is speaking may be interrupted with a brief question for clarification”— not a speech—it also says:
“Giving way accords with the traditions and customary courtesy of the House.”
I think that is absolutely correct. The Companion continues:
“It is, however, recognised that a member may justifiably refuse to give way”.
It gives various circumstances, including
“in the middle of an argument, or to repeated interruption”.
The Committee must allow the Minister latitude to complete his argument. If a noble Lord has a new concrete point to put forward to the Committee afterwards, that is reasonable. I also remind the Committee that the Companion says:
“Lengthy or frequent interventions should not be made, even with the consent of the member speaking.”
My Lords, I do not make lengthy or frequent interventions, but I welcome the Leader of the House giving your Lordships some guidance on this subject, which is helpful from time to time.
I raised a point that the Minister has not covered on the position of Defra, which clearly does not take the view that its corpus of material must be changed urgently. The noble Lord, Lord Benyon, said:
“Defra’s default approach will be to retain EU law unless there is a good reason either to repeal it or to reform it.”—[Official Report, 28/2/23; col. 205.]
Will the Minister comment on that?
I listened to my noble friend Lord Benyon’s earlier statements and they are entirely in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. It is for Defra’s Secretary of State and Ministers to take a position on what they want to do with Defra’s large body of retained EU law. They are examining it closely. I think my noble friend said that the Defra Secretary of State said her position is that most of it is appropriate and she wants to retain it. If the Bill is passed, she can use the powers granted to her and other Ministers by the Bill to achieve that aim. I do not see any inconsistency at all.
Let us wait to see what happens, but the Government are committed to the Bill. As I said, it had a big majority in the elected House, so I hope noble Lords think carefully before they remove key elements of it. It is up to the House what it does with the amendments tabled.
My Lords, I am sad that the Government have chosen not to address the points made by this Committee concerning democracy and the proper role of this House in reviewing legislation, and are stepping away from the conversation that has been offered by the Opposition. I see this as a Bill which is headed for the Parliament Act—I cannot see any other option being offered by the Government. I hope that they will step away from that; I think that we can achieve a better result if all sides looked at how the role of this House can be properly fulfilled with this sort of legislation. I think that is really important for this House and for democracy, and therefore I personally very much hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, will persist with his amendment—not today, obviously.
With that one final intervention, let me say to my noble friend that he knows I greatly respect his view. I think the Government’s record, certainly on all legislation that I have been responsible for taking through this House, shows that the Government always listen carefully. The Lord Privy Seal will agree that I am always very frank with the advice that I give to colleagues within Government about what is possible within the Government’s legislative sphere. We always listen very carefully to what the House has to say. The Government want to get their business through, obviously. We will reflect, as we have done, on amendments that are passed and proposed in this House, and will of course seek an alternative opinion from the House of Commons if amendments are passed. But I think that our record shows that, on some very controversial pieces of legislation, the Government listen to what the House has to say.
I wonder if anybody else wants to make an intervention?
Well, tempers have got slightly frayed, have they not? But can I just feel inspired by the thought that it is either the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, or the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who has had a conversion on the road to Damascus? I would like to have a cup of tea to discuss which one of us it was, and also, more importantly, to examine the suggestion that he made at Second Reading about how we should examine this Bill which, if I may say so, I regard as a very serious suggestion which may help to implement the proposals in the amendments in this group.
I am disappointed that the Minister said, and obviously believes, that the purpose of this group of amendments is to undermine the aims of the Bill. That is not the aim of those of us who signed up to Amendment 32, nor I think is it the aim of anybody who has put his or her name down to any amendments in this group. We want the way in which we create laws to be better organised and given to Parliament for control. The Minister’s argument is that parliamentary control arrives through all the various methods that we have for looking at statutory instruments and controlling them. I am sorry to go back to something that noble Lords have all heard me go on about, but the last time that the Commons rejected a statutory instrument was in 1979. It may be a consequence of having gone into the Common Market in the first place, because the 1972 provision was that we had to accept whatever came from the Common Market and introduce it into our own legal system. We did so, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out, by putting it into a statutory instrument.
Maybe it is a human fact that, if you have a whole raft of statutory instruments which you cannot amend, because the law does not allow you to amend them, you get rather bored at the idea of trying to amend laws created by your own Parliament. But whatever the reason, the idea that we are suddenly going to wake up, after 50 years of somnolence, to the idea that Parliament is suddenly going to start having effective control over statutory instruments, is—I mean this with great respect, but I am still going to say it—a bit of a fairy tale. It is a fairy tale because it is like the story of Sleeping Beauty. There she is, fast asleep, year after year, and suddenly along comes a handsome prince who brings her back to life with a kiss. I do not see any ministerial princes in relation to this issue whose kisses would bring anyone to life, and I respectfully suggest that the proposal in the Bill would involve giving Sleeping Beauty another sleeping pill, to keep her asleep for another 50 years.
I shall not go through the arguments that have been heard on all sides. I am very grateful to everyone who has spoken in this debate. I ask the Government to notice that there was not one single speech, from a fairly large cohort of Members of the House who are here this afternoon, which supported this legislation.