Moved by Lord Hope of Craighead
15: Leave out Clause 4 and insert the following new Clause—“Revocation of retained EU rights, powers, liabilities etc(1) Any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures retained by section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 are revoked at the end of 2023 in accordance with subsections (2) to (4).(2) A responsible Minister of a relevant national authority may make a statement before the end of October 2023 to, as the case may be, each House of Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or the Northern Ireland Assembly, identifying any rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies or procedures that the relevant national authority has decided not to restate, reproduce or replace before the end of 2023 and that it wishes to be revoked at the end of 2023.(3) If both Houses of Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru or the Northern Ireland Assembly, as the case may be, resolve that a right, power, liability, obligation, restriction, remedy or procedure identified in the statement referred to in subsection (2) be retained, it is not to be revoked under subsection (4) at the end of 2023.(4) If, and to the extent that, no such resolution referred to in subsection (3) has been made before the end of 2023, the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations, restrictions, remedies and procedures identified in the statement referred to in subsection (2) are revoked with effect from the end of 2023.(5) Any right, power, liability, obligation, restriction, remedy or procedure that is revoked by virtue of this section is not recognised or available in domestic law at or after the end of 2023 (and, accordingly, is not to be enforced, allowed or followed).”Member’s explanatory statementThe purpose of this amendment, which is modelled on the amendment to Clause 1 in the name of Lord Hope of Craighead, is to enable Parliament and the devolved legislatures, not the Executive, to have the final decision as to whether or not rights, powers, liabilities &c. retained by section 4 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 should be revoked at the end of 2023.
My Lords, I will speak to two amendments in this group: Amendment 15, which I am moving, and Amendment 76, which comes later in the Marshalled List; I shall explain what that is about. One or two ancillary amendments—Amendments 69, 73 and 74—are related to Amendment 76.
This group seeks to develop further the application to this Bill of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. Amendment 15 is in the name of the noble Lord, Anderson of Ipswich. I added my name to it, as did the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord McLoughlin. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is not here today, so I am moving Amendment 15 on his behalf.
Amendment 15 is directed to Clause 4, which is headed “Sunset of retained EU rights, powers, liabilities etc”. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that this is an example of a sunset that is still in the Bill and which we are not disputing should remain in the Bill. It provides, first, that
“Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 … is repealed at the end of 2023”.
It then provides that
“anything which, immediately before the end of 2023, is retained EU law by virtue of that section is not recognised or available in domestic law at or after that time (and, accordingly, is not to be enforced, allowed or followed)”.
The purpose of Amendment 15 is to provide a mechanism for parliamentary scrutiny of subsection (2). There could be a great deal of law hidden behind the clause which we cannot understand or see. Therefore, it should be fully investigated by the relevant committee. The mechanism that we propose in Amendment 15 is that the law that would be affected by Clause 4(2) must be identified by the making of a Statement to Parliament before the end of October, which would then provide a basis for the matter to be debated in both Houses. The purpose of the amendment is simply to close a gap that might otherwise remain in the need for effective scrutiny.
I shall not take up time by reading out the whole of Amendment 15 as your Lordships can see what is there, but the explanatory statement says that it is modelled on the amendment to Clause 1, in my name, which has just been agreed by your Lordships,
“to enable Parliament and the devolved legislatures, not the Executive, to have the final decision as to whether or not rights, powers, liabilities … should be revoked at the end of 2023”.
I think that is all I need to say about Amendment 15. I do not want to take up further time by adding more to what I have said.
Amendment 76 in my name, along with—as I have said—those of the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton, Lord McLoughlin, and Lord Anderson, is very important because it is directed to the very heart of the Bill; this lies beyond the schedule that we will be looking at and beyond Clause 4, to which I have just been referring. It is directed to Clauses 13, 14 and 16.
I remind your Lordships that Clause 13 is headed “Power to restate retained EU law”. Clause 14 is headed “Power to restate assimilated law or reproduce sunsetted retained EU rights, powers, liabilities etc”, and Clause 16 is described as “Powers to revoke or replace”. These are extremely important powers that, as the Bill stands, are to be exercised by statutory instrument, not subject to parliamentary scrutiny, which is what we are seeking to do.
I do not wish to go over the arguments that we have debated so fully today, beyond emphasising that these are very far-reaching powers that will result in a complete rewriting of much of the law that we have kept on our departure from the EU. We do not dispute the need to do that—there has been a good deal of reference already today to the importance and indeed necessity of carrying out these exercises—but our point is that that cannot be left entirely to Ministers and civil servants without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Amendment 76 is once again based on an amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, in Committee. It would provide for any instruments made under these three clauses to be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses for scrutiny. Again, if that committee found that the regulations represented a substantial change to the preceding EU law or that sufficient public consultation had not been carried out, a Minister of the Crown would have to arrange for the instrument to be debated on the Floor of each House. It is contemplated that the Houses may agree to amendments, whether or not proposed by the Joint Committee.
Of course, the Minister may come up with a better scheme for subjecting those regulations to effective public scrutiny, but this is the best that, with the assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, we have been able to devise. We have tried to keep the procedure as quick and simple as possible without disturbing the sunsetting provisions in the clauses and we are reasonably sure, on the advice of the noble Lord, that our proposal will meet these requirements.
Could the noble and learned Lord deal more fully with the amendment provision? It is a most interesting provision because hitherto my understanding has always been that statutory instruments cannot be amended. What is proposed in new paragraph 8A(3) in Amendment 76 is a power to amend a statutory instrument. I would like to know—
I am so sorry. Being rather deaf, I have to listen to what the noble and learned Lord is saying by turning towards him. I apologise. I would like to know—[Laughter] I am doing it again. I would like to know what the procedure is. Is it precedented, or is it a new concept that the House is being asked to contemplate—namely, the power to amend statutory instruments?
My Lords, the amendment, which I invite the noble Viscount to look at more closely, is carefully worded. All we say is that if any amendments to the regulations are agreed to—we have to be extremely careful in our proposal because we cannot direct what a Joint Committee of both Houses is going to do, which is a matter for it—we suggest that the committee may feel it appropriate to recommend that amendments should be laid. That is a matter for the Joint Committee. We are not giving a power ourselves but handing it over to the Joint Committee, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, will confirm.
I am sorry to press the noble and learned Lord—while looking straight at your Lordships’ House—but is the concept that there will then be on the Order Paper proposed amendments to the statutory instrument, or will there be an informal recommendation by the Select Committee? Those are not the same things. I would be very pleased if they were a power to amend statutory instruments, and I would really like to know what procedure is contemplated.
It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I seek to answer the question. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, will correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand it the idea is that the amendments—which might come from the Joint Committee or from another source, as foreseen in sub-paragraph (3) in the amendment—would come forward and could be to put to either House or both Houses as Motions that a certain order should be laid in a form so amended. If that Motion was agreed to—it is a sidestep procedurally because it is not acting on the text of the order itself—and the will of either House was that there should be such amendments then it would be for Ministers to re-lay the order, taking those amendments and the decision of the House or Houses into account.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. I think the noble Viscount will appreciate that we have to deal with this very carefully. On the other hand, I think he will agree that, given the nature of the task being carried out, it would be extremely unfortunate if a flaw were spotted and nothing could be done about it. We are trying to suggest a mechanism by which something that is agreed by the Joint Committee, and indeed by both Houses as necessary, should be capable of being done. I hope I may leave it at that. This is a carefully drafted amendment that is doing its best to address an extremely important and, in some respects, quite delicate task.
When the time comes, if necessary, I shall seek the opinion of the House on Amendment 76. For the time being, because we have before us Amendment 15, that will be my position too, if necessary, when Amendment 15 is called.
My Lords, we have had two significant amendments proposed by the noble and learned Lord. I have Amendments 73 and 74 in this group, which are small and technical but significant in the way in which they try to enhance the scrutiny provisions that underlie the noble and learned Lord’s two amendments, which I entirely support. I will not repeat my reasons because I would be largely rehearsing the arguments that I made an hour and a half ago.
It is generally anticipated, though not certain, that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee will be one of the bodies appointed to carry out some scrutiny of the regulations, as and when this particular part of the Bill comes into force. The Bill as drafted envisages a period of 10 working days for a report to be produced by the SLSC that would then come before the House, and the House would make its mind up about its view of that report on the instrument. The Government use the example—the dreaded precedent—of the 10-day period provided under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. In the SLSC report that I referred to earlier, we proposed that the period should be extended from 10 days to 15. We said in paragraph 58:
“We know from our own experience in scrutinising proposed negatives under the 2018 Act that, depending on the day of the week on which a proposed negative has been laid, meeting that 10-day deadline could be challenging”.
Under the Bill, the regulations to be scrutinised are of an entirely different level of policy implication, importance and significance. This view and the proposal for a five-day extension—by no means a huge length of time—have been endorsed by the Hansard Society, which Members of the House will be aware is an academic expert in matters of parliamentary procedure.
In Committee on this Bill on
“Having considered this carefully and in particular how the existing 10 day sifting practice works, the Government remains of the view that a 10 day sifting period is sufficient for SIs laid using the powers in the Retained EU Law Bill … The retained EU Law programme is a similar challenge”— to 2018—
“but it is no more complex or demanding”.
I have just two points on that. First, to describe this Bill as no more complex and demanding, compared to that of 2018, is, I am afraid, plain wrong. It is a much more significant piece of legislation than the 2018 Act. Secondly, the members of the SLSC do not come to this view ex cathedra. We think about it, but we also talk and take into account the views of the highly experienced and dedicated staff, who produce excellent reports which come before your Lordships’ House every week.
To conclude, I suppose I could just about have got my mind around my noble friend’s view that it should be 10 days after all when we were under the cosh of the
But I asked a question; I did not make a speech before. The question is one that I want to emphasise now.
Time and time again, this House has had to address the ability of Parliament to amend statutory instruments. The explanation given by the noble and learned Lord, and by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, makes it plain that on the question of amendments, we have to rely entirely on the good faith and discretion of the Minister. What in fact was being said by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane—I am grateful to him—is that the House, by a Motion, can express a view but the ability to change the statutory instrument depends on—
My Lords, I think my noble friend is actually making a statement.
I am making a speech, not a statement. I do not think I know the difference between the two. I was making a contribution in the debate.
What the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord have demonstrated is that the ability to amend statutory instruments is dependent upon the discretion of the Secretary of State. I have long taken the view, and I hope your Lordships would agree that, especially when you have so many statutory instruments, this House should be able to amend them—
My noble friend is making a statement. He is not asking a question, and we should let others get on with their one speech.
My Lords, these are rather strange goings-on.
From these Benches, we support all the amendments in this group and I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for introducing them. If he chooses to test the opinion of this House, we will support him on Amendment 15 and, later, on Amendment 76.
Rather like group 5, which we will come to later and is about the powers of courts, this group is about trying to introduce some legal stability and certainty into what has been a bumpy process for this Bill. One could say that the Bill is no way to run a whelk-stall. As my noble friend Lord Fox said, we did get some explanations for the measures to be revoked in the schedule, but it was only just before—or just after—we started to debate Clause 1, and we only got the amendments to the Bill four days ago. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and any effort to introduce some certainty and predictability is to be welcomed.
I will speak exclusively to Amendment 15, which is very important. The Government may be retaining a lot more EU law, but they have insisted—indeed, the Minister keeps repeating that they are proud of this—on playing fast and loose with the way that retained EU law will be interpreted, such as ending the much misrepresented supremacy of EU law and the general principles which guide it, as well as EU rights, which this amendment is particularly about. It is quite a mystery as to how the retained law is to be interpreted.
No one, least of all the Government, knows what the impact of this abolition will have on legal certainty and continuity. Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg’s flippant response that “life is uncertain” was typically unhelpful. Can the Minister tell us what assessment the Government have made of the loss of any interpretive effects in the measures to be revoked? What effect will abolishing any interpretive effects in the revoked list have on laws which are retained and assimilated? Are the Government going to put interpretative effects back into SIs on amended, restated, retained and assimilated law, and how will that work? I hesitate to say that it could come back by the backdoor because, quite honestly, any retention could well be helpful to lawyers, the courts and so on. At the moment, we just do not know and are in considerable uncertainty about what the Government’s regulatory intentions are.
We know from Clause 16, which we will come to later, that the Government do not want to increase regulatory burdens. Some of us are a little wary of their definition of burden. According to the smarter regulation document of last week and the consultation on employment law, which I think came out on Friday, it includes the burden of recording working hours, which is odd, and calculating holiday pay. All of that could have a considerable impact on quite a lot of people.
The Government also want regulators to have a growth duty, to
“prioritise growth alongside … their core functions, such as protecting consumers or our natural environment”.
Indeed, they have cited Ofwat, Ofgem and Ofcom in this context. Some of us are a bit concerned that, particularly in the water industry, regulators have already given too much leeway to water companies’ growth, particularly in dividends and bosses’ pay—though perhaps not so much in sewage treatment capacity. There is quite a lot of concern about how all these regulatory intentions, which we are finding in statements and consultation documents, fit the professed commitment to maintain higher standards—I think the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, mentioned this earlier. But if higher standards are kept, particularly those which derive from EU law, how are they going to be interpreted? Some clarity from the Government would be very desirable this afternoon.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendments 15 and 76. Amendment 76 is in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. This, of course, is what puts meat on the bones of the whole business of restoring parliamentary sovereignty. It is very important that we get back the sovereignty of Parliament, and this is a great opportunity to do it.
There has been a steady erosion, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson has commented, in which statutory instruments are being used to a greater extent. This merely moves power from Parliament to the bureaucracy of this country. This is not a situation that any of us should welcome. If we want to restore our democracy, we should have a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at this legislation. It is very important that we concentrate on the future of this country and of our Parliament and start to restore some of its influence in the world today.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 73 and 74, to which I added my name. I will preface my remarks with a brief comment about the attempts by the Government Front Bench to curtail people’s right to ask questions of other Members during speeches this afternoon. That is most unfortunate and particularly ironic in a debate that is pivoting on the issue of the powers of Parliament to scrutinise legislation. I hope that the Government Front Bench will think again about that line of action.
I welcome the Government’s concessions in the Bill, but I still want to remark on the length of time it took them to wake up to the inevitable—the realisation that the Bill was impossible to implement and requires fundamental change. I am deeply grateful to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, for taking that message from this House to the Government. At the same time, having woken up to the need for change, the Government have now given us an impossible timescale in which to consider the 600 pieces of legislation they have identified—we have 48 hours from now. This remains a very flawed Bill, therefore, and represents a major accumulation of power in the hands of the Executive. That is power seized from both this Parliament and, despite important government concessions, the devolved Administrations.
The amendments to which I have added my name are of the most minor nature. Indeed, in Committee the Minister gave us cause to hope that the Government might look positively on such a change. They are minor—an extension from 10 to 15 days for the committees to look at this legislation—but they are nevertheless important because, without that minor change, the sifting of legislation will present a major hurdle.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, referred to the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in his speech on the first group of amendments. That report was called Losing Control?. I am delighted to now be a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is in his place. These minor amendments ask simply for Parliament to be given time to do its job. The Government have accepted that their initial Bill was impractical in its timescale. They now need to accept the lessons of that and, even at this point, to accept this minor change.
This Government have broken new boundaries by producing increasingly skeletal Bills and relying heavily on secondary legislation to flesh out the real meaning of their legislation. SIs are not immune to error. The Home Office recently accumulated a record of having to withdraw one in five of its SIs and remake them. That is not a record of perfect legislation. The Government need to accept that they make mistakes.
We have government by SI now, but the rules and procedures for scrutiny of SIs are locked in the past when primary legislation was much more detailed. If we are to be forced to work this way, procedures must change or there will be major legislative errors. I support the amendments put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and so ably explained by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, as a good, practical way of dealing with the new approach to legislation.
My Lords, I would like to offer a brief comment on Amendment 76 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. Like many Members of your Lordships’ House, I find the way in which we deal with the increasing amount of secondary legislation fundamentally unsatisfactory. I pay tribute to the work done by my noble friends Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord Blencathra and their respective committees last year, and to the important debate held in your Lordships’ House.
We should move towards re-examining how we handle secondary legislation going forward. However, I do not think that the right way forward is to produce one amendment in one Bill and try to say that it answers the problem. I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, because of his tremendous experience in the other place. But let us not pretend it is easy to find a good solution that will work with both Houses and produce the right degree of additional scrutiny without completely holding up the Government’s secondary legislation programme.
We should take time—I hope the Government will find time—to work between both Houses to find good, practical solutions going forward, but we should not legislate in haste in this Bill. We have secondary legislation procedures that have served us pretty well for a long time. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, referred to needing to deal with flaws in secondary legislation. They can already be dealt with; they do not need any special apparatus to do so. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred to the procedure whereby statutory instruments are withdrawn when flaws are pointed out. That is a part of our existing procedure, and it works perfectly well. Let us not pretend it is so broken that we have to invent a special procedure for the Bill.
My Lords, my name appears on Amendments 15 and 76, spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. Following what my noble friend Lady Noakes has just said, I say: if not now, when?
It is clear from this debate so far that we sometimes feel that somehow all this European legislation was forced on us and we never wanted it. The simple fact is that we would have had to legislate for a lot of it ourselves. Actually, what happened was that sometimes it was gold-plated—not by Europe but by us. One thing we must be careful not to see happen now is future regulations coming forward and being gold-plated without Ministers necessarily realising what has possibly happened.
I have been fortunate in serving as a Secretary of State. I must admit: I cannot say that, when officials came to me and said that we would take something through on delegated powers, I said, “Well, I must really examine every last word of that particular piece of legislation”.
Yes, of course, shame—absolutely a shame. I completely accept what my noble friend is saying. It is a shame and a disgrace, but sometimes you get such a number of regulations coming forward that you might just let them believe what you are saying because you know you are not going to have to defend it in Parliament. That is something that I think my noble friend Lord Hamilton said a few moments ago. It will make a Government more responsive if they feel they have to defend it on the Floor of either the House of Commons or your Lordships’ House.
That is why we have had several debates, including, as my noble friend Lady Noakes said, the earlier debate as a result of the Delegated Powers Committee—which I now chair following my noble friend Lord Blencathra—and the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Hodgson. It is a way to make sure that the Government are more accountable to the elected House as well as to your Lordships’ House, where we can also sometimes ask, “Has A or B been thought of?”. That is very much why I hope the Government will consider this in due course. As I said, the overall changes made to the Bill already are very welcome, but the number of changes, and the speed with which they have been made, makes us question, rightly, how well thought out the Bill was in the first instance.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin. His historical point is completely correct: the period of maximum EU legislation was during the delivery of the single market programme, which was based on the Cockfield White Paper and the agreement between Prime Minister Thatcher and President Delors. That legislation came through mainly in the early 1990s, and some of it is in the schedule—it has probably been overtaken by something else. It is simply not true that it was all imposed on us.
“A relevant national authority may by regulations revoke any secondary retained EU law and replace it with such provision as the relevant national authority considers to be appropriate and to achieve the same or similar objectives”.
In the phrase “considers to be appropriate”, “appropriate” is a very presidential word rather than a parliamentary word. Okay, there is still the saving caveat that it has
“to achieve the same or similar objectives”, but here comes Clause 16(3), which uses almost exactly the same wording:
“A relevant national authority may by regulations revoke any secondary retained EU law and make such alternative provision as the relevant national authority considers appropriate”.
Here there is no saving caveat about achieving the same or similar objectives, so under Clause 16 the Executive may, by regulations, do whatever they well choose. That seems to me to make it absolutely essential to have the parliamentary scrutiny for Clauses 13, 14 and 16 that would be delivered by the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, is certainly correct that no legislation was forced on the UK by the EU. Indeed, many Ministers from all parties were happy to take advantage of laws made in Brussels, which they sometimes even suggested, by coming back to the UK and reading out the legal text from the EU Commission—and then, if there was any objection, they blamed the EU. But what was removed from that equation was the scrutiny and accountability of the electorate. They were the people who were told that they could not change the law; it was ring-fenced away from them. That is what voters rejected in 2016.
I will be clear on what this Bill is all about by quoting the European Commission, because I know that so many noble Lords trust it and not me. In October 2021 the EU Commission stated, in relation to a dispute with Poland:
That is no longer the case for the UK, and we are now trying to untangle how we deal with that.
In relation to the Bill, it is, in my opinion, not the case that Brexit was an act of reclaiming sovereignty, a blueprint for saying exactly what laws we would keep or retain, or a means of just getting rid of EU law as an end in itself, as it were. Rather, it was about putting the responsibility for choosing which laws to prioritise, reform or even improve in the hands of the Government and Parliament, who are answerable to the British people—the electorate. I have listened carefully to a lot of the very thoughtful amendments put forward to try to ensure that too much power is not put in the hands of the Executive or Whitehall, as opposed to an accountable Parliament, but I get anxious about how the arguments are posed sometimes, so I will query some of the amendments in this group.
I really appreciated when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, emphasised that he was trying to find a solution that is as quick and simple as possible. I worry that the removal of the sunset clause, as we have previously discussed, might mean a loss of a sense of urgency in our task. It is our obligation to rejuvenate and improve laws now that we are in charge of them. The idea outside this House that things have been rushed through is unconvincing. This process should have started when the electorate voted in 2016 and instructed parliamentarians to get on with it, but it did not, and so it has dragged on. Sometimes I think that, when people say this has been rushed through, they neglect to mention that that is because we did not do anything for so many years, and therefore there is now a sense of urgency. I mention this because I am concerned that some of the attempts, even by the Government, to remove the sunset clause, in the way that has been discussed previously, will breed cynicism and a distrust in the electorate about the breaking of promises and the possibility that this is just a delaying tactic. So I am very pleased to hear the noble Lords who put forward the amendments being aware of the time issue.
It seems to me that the sheer number of EU laws and regulations grows daily. Every time I look, it has gone up by another thousand or so. The invaluable research organisation Facts4EU.Org, which keeps track of this—it seems almost ahead of the official tracker—has noted that four substantial agencies, including the Health and Safety Executive and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, have only just started reporting, so you know that the number will just go up and up. The sheer mind-boggling numbers and scale indicate how much of our sovereignty, as the UK, was undermined by the many laws and regulations not made in the UK and accountable to the British public.
I was very struck by the question that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, asked: where will it all end? That was a very good question. One feels that, if the Government or those putting forward the amendments had a sense of real urgency, they would count the laws and say that there is a definitive time by which we will have said, absolutely, which laws came from the EU. That would be helpful and at least give a sense that, now we do not have the cliff edge to fall off and all the unintended consequences, this was being taken seriously.
The only other thing that I want to mention is that I fear that one of the consequences of the fact that so much law was not made and so many policies were not designed directly by UK legislators and politicians is that, possibly, we have lost the art of lawmaking because, as it were, we outsourced it elsewhere. I am concerned, therefore, that we get on with the job of improving legislative processes.
As mentioned earlier, I am no fan of SIs and delegated powers and giving too much power to the Executive, but I do not necessarily want to use this Bill to try to resolve all those problems. I would like to see them being resolved, but I am concerned that the solutions being proposed being put forward at the moment actually involve even more delegation of powers. Even the Joint Committees of Parliament are not entirely open to improved lawmaking, it seems to me, and I want some assurances from those who propose that as the remedy that they will not become—dare I mention it—an extension of the “blob” or some of the prejudices in this House.
I noticed earlier, for example, when the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, was speaking, that there was a huge amount of grumbling and complaint and so on. I actually made a mess of the rules by trying to stand up and defend someone earlier by, I thought, asking a question, then being stopped from speaking, because I felt that it was unfair that somebody was being accused of making a Second Reading speech when it was not Second Reading, and I was trying to explain why—blah, blah, blah. The reason why I am saying that is because this House is not necessarily representative of the electorate of this country.
Indeed, so that is true. For once noble Lords are agreeing with me: this House is not representative of the feelings of the British public. Therefore, the Joint Committees of Parliament, which include many from this House, who are hostile to what the British public voted to do in the past—
My Lords, I apologise for intervening again, but the rules found in the Companion are very clear about speaking once on Report.
My Lords, Amendment 15 is modelled on the amendment proposed earlier to Clause 1. As noble Lords who have put the amendment have said, this is to enable Parliament, not the Executive, to have the final decision. It may seem strange that I oppose that, but I do oppose it, because it makes the assumption that, in general, EU rights, powers and liabilities should remain after our withdrawal, unless a specific decision is taken in each case to remove them. On the contrary, the decision at the referendum, confirmed in 2019, was to leave the EU and leave behind its rights, powers and liabilities. Moreover, the House of Commons has voted in favour of Clauses 4(1) and 4(2).
Rather than a defence of parliamentary power, about which noble Lords have spoken very eloquently, this will or may appear a rear-guard action to retain binding links with the EU system of law, despite the decision. To repeat again what I said on the amendment to Clause 1, a direct mandate was given to the Executive to end that legal system, and it is not for this House to obstruct that mandate any longer.
My Lords, I shall say a brief word. Having taken over from my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts of chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, I would like to support his words and the words of my colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, with regard to Amendments 73 and 74.
As we have heard, under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 the committee was charged with an additional function—the scrutiny of what are called proposed negative instruments laid under the new sifting mechanism. The committee had 10 days to report on those proposed instruments and, to the immense credit of the committee and of the talent of the staff concerned, it rose to that considerable challenge of meeting a demanding deadline under the leadership of my noble friend. But this was not an easy matter. In its report on the Bill, the committee warned that the task of sifting would be even more challenging under this Bill because of the potential significance and complexity of the instruments to be sifted.
During the debate in Committee, in which I participated in support of my noble friend, the Minister gave us some hope that he understood the persuasiveness of the case for extending the scrutiny period. Sadly, that was not to be, and the Government in their response to the committee’s report on the Bill said that they did not accept the need for the period to be extended. This is very disappointing indeed. As I said in Committee, the committee would not expect to use the full 15 days for every proposed negative instrument—far from it. What is being asked for is an extension of the deadline in recognition of the fact that the Bill has the potential for generating more complex and far-reaching policy changes through instruments subject to the sifting mechanism than the 2018 Act has.
I warned my noble friend the Minister that when he got back to the department, after his warm words in support of my noble friend and other noble Lords who participated, people would tell him that it was impossible, because it would set a terrible precedent—and I think that that is probably what happened. I would ask him just to think again, because I do not think that it sets a precedent at all; it is a unique occasion. If the Government are to demonstrate their support for effective parliamentary scrutiny—and, in particular, effective use of the sifting mechanism—I would urge him to think again and accept these amendments.
My Lords, this has again been a lively debate. The Government’s concession on Amendment 1 ensures that the bulk of retained EU law will remain on the statute book as assimilated law at least for a while, but there are no moves in the Government’s amendments to change the Bill’s proposal for the Executive to sunset retained EU rights, powers and liabilities. Amendment 15, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would ensure that it is Parliament rather than the Executive that will have the final say over whether those rights, powers and liabilities should be revoked at the end of the year. That is very important and that is why we will support that amendment, if it is put to the vote.
I turn to Amendment 76. Speaking in the Commons last week, after the Government had announced their plans in the press and, latterly, to the Commons, the Secretary of State said that
“the Bill provides business certainty and legal certainty”.
It does not provide either of those. Despite the U-turn on sunsetting, the Bill still retains those powers that will enable Ministers to amend retained EU law, now assimilated law, by statutory instrument when they deem it to be appropriate. As the Secretary of State also said last week:
“Most importantly, it gives us the space to focus on the reform programme”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/5/23; col. 447.]
So all the thousands of pieces of legislation that are assimilated automatically by this amended Bill can be revoked or reformed with almost no opportunity for debate or amendment in this crucial legislation.
As we have heard, this represents a huge gathering of power to the Executive. Amendment 76 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, ensures that any SIs the Government propose to make using this power are referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses for scrutiny. If the Joint Committee finds that a significant change to the law is proposed, then the SI must be debated on the Floor of each House. This is what Parliament is here to do. There is also a provision to ensure that amendments to such SIs can be agreed by both Houses. We had a lively debate in three corners of the House about that. When the time comes, these Benches will support this amendment.
My Lords, I am very struck by the change in tone in this House. For years, we were told that the EU was an association of nations and that it was some abstruse, recondite obsession of Eurosceptics to claim otherwise; now we are told that it is a massive Jenga set and that, if we take anything out, the whole structure will come tumbling down because it is so deeply embedded in our domestic law. For years, we were told that we had extraordinary Rolls-Royce civil servants and that we were the best country at implementing everything; now it is suddenly beyond them to repeal the same things within a reasonable deadline. For years, we were told that parliamentary sovereignty was a 19th-century hang-up of interest only to eccentrics; suddenly—I welcome this—it has become a deep concern on both sides of the Chamber.
In accepting the previous debates in this House, the Government have done their best to reach a balance. They must implement the decision and have done so in a way that takes account of the objections raised on all sides by your Lordships. They deserve rather more recognition than they are getting this afternoon.
My Lords, to pick up that point, we have heard in every debate a recognition that the Government have moved, which has been very important and welcome.
Some people want to continue a debate about Brexit. These amendments are not about that. That is why I totally support the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Hodgson, who have previously participated in debates in this House on the nature of secondary legislation and how it has increased, and how it empowers the Executive. This is a unique situation; we have established the principle in the first group but, if we are to make changes—revise, reform and revoke—how will we ensure that the people with the responsibility to legislate have the responsibility properly to scrutinise and amend if necessary? People jump up and down and ask whether this is the right place to have a debate about secondary legislation. I am not too bothered about that. I am concerned about outcomes. Parliament should have the opportunity properly to scrutinise the changes and powers in this legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, have offered us a process in this Bill for those changes to be made.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has pushed me on numerous occasions, particularly when we debated his committee’s report, on whether a future Government would adopt this for statutory instruments. I cannot make that commitment, but I know that, if we adopt Amendment 76, it will establish a practice that people might see is beneficial for future arrangements. We can have a win-win situation. This debate is not about Brexit. It is about who has responsibility to legislate in this country. It is not the Government; it is our duty. That is why we should support Amendments 76 and 15.
My Lords, Amendment 15 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, effectively seeks to delay a vital part of the Government’s retained EU law reform programme whereby EU rights, obligations and remedies saved by Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will cease to apply in the UK after
Where the UK and devolved Governments consider that there is a need to codify any specific rights that may otherwise cease to apply, this can be done under the Bill’s powers. These codified rights will be placed on a sustainable UK footing, providing certainty and therefore safeguarding and enhancing them in domestic statute. The Bill is ending the current situation whereby citizens must rely in some cases on an unclear category of law and complex legal glosses to enforce their rights. Sadly, the proposed amendment seeks to perpetuate this situation, which the Government consider unacceptable. I hope the noble and learned Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Amendments 69, 76, 73 and 74 relate to Schedule 4 and parliamentary scrutiny. Amendments 73 and 74, tabled by my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, relate to the sifting procedure and seek to extend the period during which committees of this House and the House of Commons can make a recommendation about the relevant scrutiny procedure for regulations made under Clauses 13, 14 and 16. Specifically, these amendments seek to change the time limit under which both Houses can make recommendations on the appropriate procedure to be used when an instrument is laid and subject to the sifting procedure.
As the provision is drafted, relevant committees of this House and the Commons have a period of 10 sitting days to make recommendations on the appropriate scrutiny procedures. This starts on the first day on which both Houses are sitting after the instrument has been laid. If the period of 10 sitting days does not cover the same dates for both Houses, the end date of the relevant period will be the later of the two dates. Amendment 73 extends the number of sitting days in the period from 10 to 15 for the House of Commons, while Amendment 74 does the same for this House.
As I have been reminded by a number of noble Lords, particularly my noble friends Lord Hodgson and Lord Hunt, I committed in Committee to review the 10-day scrutiny period for sifting. I engaged in extensive discussions not just in the department but with the business managers about whether a 10-day sifting period was sufficient. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson intimated, I was not successful in persuading them. The Government’s position remains that a 10-day sifting procedure is sufficient for SIs laid under the powers in the Bill.
It is also worth pointing out that we had that debate under the old provisions of the Bill. Under the new schedule approach, the total volume of statutory instruments to be delivered via the reform programme has been significantly reduced. My noble friend’s concern that there was not enough time to consider them properly will have been to some extent allayed, given the previously very large volume of SIs.
From previous experience, the 10-day period worked quite well during the programme of SIs for EU exit and is in line with the sifting procedures and legislation introduced under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. I have some confidence that it will continue to work well in this scenario. Therefore, I am afraid the Government do not consider it necessary to extend the time limit within which an instrument is scrutinised as part of the sifting procedure.
I turn now to Amendments 69 and 76 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. These amendments put a somewhat novel scrutiny procedure in place for the powers under Clauses 13, 14 and 16. Specifically, Amendment 69 removes the requirement for certain regulations made under those clauses to be subject to the affirmative procedure. In consequence of this, Ministers would be left with a choice between the negative or affirmative procedures, with the former subject to the sifting procedure.
Amendment 76 imposes this novel and untested scrutiny requirement on regulations made. This takes the form of an enhanced sifting procedure—not dissimilar to the super-affirmative procedure—under which Parliament may make amendments to a proposed instrument. The Government believe that the purpose of this Bill is to ensure that we have the right regulations in place which are right for the whole of the UK. The House can be assured that the Government will ensure that any significant retained EU law reforms will receive the appropriate level of scrutiny by the relevant legislatures and will be subject to all of the usual processes for consultation and impact assessment. However, we also believe that we have to ensure that the limited amount of parliamentary time that is available is used most appropriately and most effectively. Requiring that the powers be subject to additional scrutiny is neither appropriate nor necessary in this case.
The sifting procedure that we suggested was purposely drafted as a safeguarding measure for these powers. The sifting procedure will give the UK Parliament the opportunity to take an active role in the development of this legislation. It is a tried and tested method of parliamentary scrutiny which delivers—in my view—good results for everyone and does draw on the expertise of our various parliamentary committees. Requiring that legislation to be subject to novel, untried, untested and onerous scrutiny, such as this enhanced sifting mechanism would—in my view—not be an effective use of parliamentary time. It would result in delaying departments delivering their REUL reform programmes and would delay the Bill in delivering its objective of bringing about much-needed REUL reform. For all those reasons, the Government cannot support Amendments 69, 76, 73 and 74.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in the course of this debate. I do not want to go over the arguments again. On the criticisms the Minister has made about my two amendments, I have only two points to make.
First, I think he said that the purpose of Amendment 15 was to delay the process that Clause 4 is talking about. That is simply not true. We have kept within the timetable that Clause 4 itself lays down. As I made clear, the aim throughout our amendments is to try to achieve what is required as quickly as possible. The sunset date in Clause 4 remains, according to our amendment. So, to say that we are delaying anything is, with great respect, not the case.
Secondly, to describe Amendment 76 as novel and untested is not a criticism that meets the situation. We are dealing with an entirely new situation where we are having to redesign an enormous quantity of EU law which we have inherited. Of course, the system we have devised is new because we are dealing with something we have never encountered before. That itself is no answer to the point that we were making throughout: parliamentary scrutiny is essential. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, drew attention to provisions in Clause 16 which absolutely emphasise the essential nature of that. So I move Amendment 15 and, if it is not agreed to, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 222, Noes 154.