Amendment 64ZA (to Amendment 64)

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 17 May 2023.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville:

Moved by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

64ZA: Leave out lines 145 and 146Member's explanatory statementThis amendment is to leave out the Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/164).

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:00, 17 May 2023

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this group of amendments, and I rise to speak to Amendment 64ZA in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Parminter. This relates to the Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations (SI 2003/164). However, I shall return to this shortly.

I begin by welcoming the Government’s change of heart over the sunset clause and the tabling of the government amendments that we have before us today. However, it is extremely regrettable that these amendments were not tabled in Committee so that a proper debate could have taken place. Now we are on Report, where each contributor is permitted to speak only once on each group of amendments, which means covering a number of regulations in one go.

The noble Lord, Lord Benyon, who is sadly not in his place this afternoon, has previously given assurances to the effect that there were a number of redundant laws on the statute book that needed deleting. Having been through the Government’s list several times and seen the significant number relating to Defra, I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, that there are indeed a large number of superfluous laws we no longer need. A good example of such laws is those covered in lines 104 to 121 and 128 to 133, which relate to eight sets of regulations dealing with temporary exceptions to drivers’ hours during the foot and mouth crisis of 2001. While those restrictions were needed during that crisis, they are certainly not needed now. We have seen through the Covid epidemic that passing emergency legislation to suit a particular crisis, while uncomfortable, does work; we do not need to keep obsolete legislation on the statute book, but others need to be retained.

There are also a very large number of regulations dealing with the fishing industry. While it is not necessary to retain regulations which deal with fishing in New Zealand, Mauritius or Mozambique, for example, there are several references to anchovies in the Baltic Sea. Anchovies, as well as being a delicious snack for humans, are also at the bottom of the food chain, with a large number of fish species depending on them as a significant food source. It is, therefore, important to have regulations in place that ensure that anchovy fish stocks are sufficiently high enough not to damage the stock of other species.

There are also regulations relating to POPs—persistent organic pollutants. However, given that we are on Report, it is simply not realistic to put down probing amendments around a number of concerns that your Lordships may have over some other issues.

I return to Amendment 64ZA, which is by way of being a probing amendment. The Minister has given a very full introduction. The water resources regulations of 2003 and the related amending regulations are included in the Government’s list to be removed under this Bill. These regulations were put in place to carry out environmental impact assessments for certain water abstraction applications for the agriculture industry. It is important for the farming and horticulture industries to have access to water in order to thrive. That was particularly so during last summer’s drought. Water is a valuable resource and must be treated as such. These abstractions might have been likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue of their nature, size or location. The regulations provided for the publication of the assessment and for the assessment to be considered when determining the application, which could affect the outcome.

The removal of these regulations will leave such abstractions without the requirement for an environmental impact assessment. Instead, applications will be dealt with through the abstraction licensing regime. The EIA requirements applied to abstractions were previously exempt, but they have recently been brought into the licensing regime. It is important for the Government to provide reassurance that the environmental impacts of such abstractions, either alone or in combination, can be sufficiently assessed under the licensing regime and the related catchment abstraction licensing strategy—CALS—process, given that there is no general requirement for an EIA to be conducted within that regime. We are, therefore, strongly recommending that the Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003 are removed from the REUL Bill revocation schedule. If this is not accepted, can the Minister urgently give clear information as to why these regulations are proposed for revocation? I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I echo my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville’s thanks to the Minister for his introduction to this group and also for arranging the meeting with the Bill team last Friday and for the very helpful discussions that we were able to have there. As he knows, we have been asking for data relating to the SIs to be sunsetted right from the start of the Bill’s passage, and I thank the Minister and his team for circulating the spreadsheet, which arrived earlier yesterday.

My amendment follows the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, in Monday’s debate, at cols. 19 and 20. She asked about identifying retained EU law, and my concerns relate to the holes in the existing and sunsetting of the regulations. I have tabled Amendment 64ZB, having raised concerns at the meeting with the Bill team about this one SI in the list of 600, mainly because there was not much time to do detailed work on others. It is found in the proposed new schedule, at lines 209-10, entitled Foodstuffs Suitable for People Intolerant to Gluten (England) Regulations 2010—please forgive me if I just refer to such foodstuffs as “gluten” hereafter.

As a coeliac of five decades, as well as having had an interest in health matters for some time, I spent a very large part of Thursday and Friday trying to track back current and former regulations relating to foodstuffs that are suitable for people who are intolerant to gluten and their labelling—it is vital to ensure that people with coeliac disease and intolerances can keep themselves safe. I have to say that I found it almost impossible to do so. Key words were not used consistently and there was no golden thread anywhere to help navigate this. On Thursday afternoon, I approached the Food Standards Agency and Coeliac UK. Both responded swiftly and were extremely helpful. The Government’s spreadsheet that I referred to earlier says, at item 94, that this SI is redundant because

“These Regulations are inoperable. It enforced EU Regulation 41/2009, which was repealed by the EU in 2016 (and replaced by EU Regulation 828/2014, which is being preserved). The equivalent domestic enforcement legislation in Wales, Scotland and NI was revoked and replaced in 2016”.

Unfortunately, this is not entirely correct.

In the helpful briefings from the FSA and Coeliac UK, it transpires that in 2016 there was a consultation to put EU Regulation 828/2014 into a UK regulation to replace SI 2010/2281. This is important because the EU directive sets the composition levels and the labelling rules for gluten-free foodstuffs. However, since that consultation, there has been total silence from the Government about introducing an SI to replace the one listed in the proposed new schedule at lines 209-10. Both the FSA and Coeliac UK told me they have been relying on a workaround, outside of the regulations, found in other legislation, including general food law and the Food Safety Act 1990. These relate to enforcement, not to detailed composition and labelling laws, which are found in EU Regulation 828/2014. Coeliac UK and the FSA have both told me, in briefings that I forwarded to the Minister and his team, that the workaround relies not only on general food law and the Food Safety Act but on the underpinning powers of EU Regulation 1169/2001. However, this regulation mentions gluten only once, on page 51, in Annexe II, paragraph 1, whereas EU Regulation 828/2014 is all about foodstuffs containing gluten and their appropriate labelling.

The FSA and Coeliac UK are both clear that a statutory instrument for England is required to allow direct enforcement of EU Regulation 828/2014, and this will follow in due course. Indeed, the Bill team confirmed this to me in an email yesterday. While I note there is a workaround, I am bemused that such an important matter that relies on the detail of EU Regulation 828/2014 has not yet been brought before Parliament in an SI. Why has there been a seven-year delay to lay that relevant SI since the Government’s own 2016 consultation? I also asked the Minister in an email when we can expect to see this laid, and the reply was that there is a commitment to progress

“at the earliest possible time” but no possible date. With the greatest respect to the Minister and the Government, it is not down to the FSA, which is constantly referred to as being in charge of the legislative process. It is not.

The email from the Minister also said that this legislation

“remains in force and will be preserved as part of the Retained EU law process”.

But it is not enforced because there is not a regulation. It goes on to say:

“Although there are no direct enforcing regulations in England, there are sufficient powers”— the ones I referred to. However, as I have said, that does not cover the detail of the relevant recent 2014 regulation.

It may feel to some people that I am dancing on the head of a pin. But those who are intolerant to gluten rely very particularly on the EU directive that covers the composition and labelling of items, and therefore how they are sold, which assures people that they can eat them safely. My broader concerns are how many of the other 599 sunset SIs have similar holes in the legislation.

I note that some MPs have referred to the “blob” and others being at fault for not moving quickly enough. I think that the detail I have just recounted shows that the history of SIs has not been well listed over many years, and it is complex. The government spreadsheet, circulated earlier on, is clearly not aware of it. The government website on nutrition is also not aware of it. The nutrition legislation information sheet, at paragraph 5.8, unfortunately does not refer to the need for this new directive.

Will the Minister assure me that there has been a full tracking of all elements of each SI that is proposed to be removed? If it is discovered that there are holes, such as the one I have just described, what will the Government do, under the terms of this Bill, to ensure that there are no legislative problems in the future?

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee was very clear that one of the main problems that Parliament has to face, both our House and the other place, is how on earth we can continue with our effective parliamentary scrutiny, given the very broad sweep of secondary legislation that may be made under the provisions of the Bill. This is absolutely one of those cornerstone regulations where we need to ensure that the directive is visible in legislation—it is not.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and the noble Baronesses for introducing their amendments as well. I have the final two amendments in this group: Amendments 64A and 64B. These amendments address our concerns about the proposed revoking of the National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2018, particularly Regulations 9 and 10, and of the Commission Implementing Decision 2018, which lays down a common format for national air pollution control programmes. The Government have justified this revocation by saying that

“we will be removing some items of REUL relating to the National Air Pollution Control Plan (NAPCP). The current format … is long, complicated, resource intensive and duplicative, and does nothing to improve the quality of the air we breathe. By revoking this item, we can better focus on what will actually help clean up our air, such as by delivering on the ambitious air quality targets we have set in statute through the Environmental Act”.

I would like to explain why we believe they should not be revoked.

The National Emission Ceilings Regulations deal with emissions of ammonia fine particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, NOx and other serious pollutants. These emissions are the inputs which mix in the atmosphere to become concentrations or outputs, which are measured for health and regulatory purposes relative to the WHO’s air quality guidelines. The Environment Act 2021 and the air quality strategy of 2023 focus largely on concentrations. The environmental improvement plan of 2023 proposes just vague measures to reduce emissions without providing a robust mechanism to review, plan, consult and implement plans when new breaches of emission ceilings occur.

Regulations 9 and 10, which the Government seek to abolish, provide for the preparation and implementation of a national air pollution programme to limit those harmful emissions in accordance with national emission reduction commitments and, importantly, for full public consultation. Removing the obligation to draw up and implement a national air pollution control plan strips away any clear duty on the Government to show how they will reduce emissions in line with their legally binding emissions targets. To succeed in this, we need rules that require the Government to control emissions of harmful pollutants at their source. Without such measures, all their plans and targets are empty gestures.

Last year, Clean Air in London identified three breaches of Regulation 9 and this year Defra admitted breaching the PM2.5 emission ceiling. The answer to a breach of these regulations, which are intended to control air pollution, is not to abolish them but to take immediate measures to tackle a problem that poses one of the greatest threats to human health and the environment. What are the Government’s explanations for revoking this? They do not hold up to scrutiny. Talking of scrutiny, why has there been no consultation or engagement on these prior to the publication of the schedule?

I offer our strong support for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, because we are very concerned that the water resources regulations of 2003 are included. She has clearly laid out her concerns and the reasons why the regulations are important, so I will not repeat them.

In the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, there are proposals for extensive powers for a new system of environmental impact assessments to replace the current regulations, including the water resources regulations of 2003. Powers in the LURB only streamline and simplify current requirements and they will be applied to all EIA regulations. DLUHC is currently consulting on those proposals, including with the devolved Administrations, and planning for new regulations to be considered later this year, but if this is delayed at all then any new EIA regulations will not be in place before next spring. Why are the Government revoking just one set of EIA regs, which apply only in England and Wales, before those plans are realised and new regulations are in force?

Last year, Defra’s Nature Recovery Green Paper consulted on opportunities

“to improve the scope and process of these regimes”, including the water resources EIA. In the absence of any government response to that consultation, can the Minister explain why the water resources EIA has been singled out from the other four EIA regimes under Defra’s jurisdiction and what the rationale is for revoking it?

I draw attention briefly to our concerns about the inclusion of the Flood Risk Regulations 2009. These impose a duty on the Environment Agency and local authorities to prepare assessment reports on past floods, to map areas at significant risk of flooding, and to prepare flood risk maps and flood risk management plans. The more recent Flood and Water Management Act 2010 similarly requires that particular authorities must

“develop, maintain, apply and monitor a strategy for local flood risk management” in their areas but does not set out provisions around, for example, how often these must be reviewed. Will the Minister set out, in writing to me if that is easier, whether there are aspects in the Flood Risk Regulations that are not duplicated in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 and what the impacts of losing these may be?

Finally, I have a question about the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, which are included. We understand that they originated from primary legislation: the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999. Presumably, this transposes that directive. Does that mean it is included as a technicality? Are the Government aware of all transposed legislation and are there further implications for primary legislation when legislation is transposed like that?

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 5:15, 17 May 2023

My Lords, I am grateful for the kind words from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I was not going to speak, but I would like to echo the remarks she made and repeat my concern, shared by other noble Lords, that there is not going to be sufficient time for a consultation on the directives relating to gluten, flooding and other issues. The Food Standards Agency agrees with all the directives in the proposed new schedule but is concerned that, by the time the Bill receives Royal Assent, there will be a perilously short period in which to conclude the required consultations.

I echo the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, regarding the Flood Risk Regulations 2009, at page 10, line 197 of the proposed new schedule. I stand to be corrected by my noble friend the Minister, but it is my understanding that this is not a transposition of EU law but an entirely UK measure. I would like to know, for greater clarification and understanding, why these regulations are included in the proposed new schedule.

I echo also the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I think we all accept that in the 1980s, the UK was known as the dirty man, or woman, of Europe, and it took a female Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher—then Margaret Thatcher—to take the plunge and implement all the EU directives and regulations. These have moved on, and since we have left the European Union the water framework directive and others—most recently, the urban wastewater directive—are going through a further transposition. Obviously, they will no longer apply to UK water companies. I realise it is a different department but I hope Defra, along with my noble friend, will look favourably on some of the requirements set out therein, which may actually benefit the UK’s environment: bathing waters, drinking water and especially wastewater.

I seek clarification from my noble friend of something he said, as I do not think he answered the concerns I expressed on Monday. He was very clear that we are dropping the interpretative effects of retained EU law, but I would like to press him in this regard because the indirect effect of EU law is also sometimes referred to as the “consistent interpretation” of EU law. I hope that a company in this country seeking to export or conduct its business in an EU country—selling insurance policies, for example—will not be disbarred from doing so because we are not interpreting the law in the same way as EU countries. I realise that my noble friend was very clear on this point, but can he ensure that there will be no discrimination in this regard against UK companies trying to do their business and trade in an EU country?

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Judge

My Lords, the amendments moved by the noble Baronesses leave me feeling very uneasy—not because I doubt the validity of the points they have raised, but because I am concerned about things that may have been missed out. The fact is that we have been presented on Report with an enormously long proposed schedule and a spreadsheet and, frankly, this is no way for parliamentary scrutiny to be conducted in the Chamber. It is a different matter in Committee, where we can have things on tables in front of us, but it is quite impossible to go through the proposed schedule in this Chamber with the respect and detail that it deserves on Report. That is my concern.

I confess that I have not had the time or resources to go through the whole of the proposed new schedule. I have spotted, as has been noted, a number of things that quite obviously have to be discarded. That is not in doubt. However, it is the things that need to be examined carefully in detail in order to see mistakes of the kind that these amendments draw attention to that trouble me very greatly. I just express my great concern about the process we are undertaking, which, in my respectful submission, cannot really be described as parliamentary scrutiny.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, with two grandchildren who are gluten-free, I strongly support and share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. Perhaps more fundamental are the points that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has just raised. Throughout this process, I have become increasingly concerned about what may be left out or partially changed. Speaking as a former lawyer, what is going to happen when these matters come to court, as we said in Committee? We discussed what would be said when these matters come to court and someone relying on a regulation finds that it no longer exists, or that it has been changed without anyone having any idea that it had happened. As the noble and learned Lord said, this is absolutely not the way to deal with retained EU law.

Photo of Baroness Foster of Oxton Baroness Foster of Oxton Conservative

My Lords, I had not intended to intervene at all—it has been a fascinating debate, and excellent amendments have been put down—but I am just curious. As I have mentioned before, a number of us were in the European Parliament for many years. We left the European Union—Brexit occurred—in 2016. We are seven years on from that. The Civil Service knew after the vote that we were going to leave the European Union. Clearly, this was massively complex, as we had had 50 years of regulations and directives, but here we are in 2023.

The points that noble Lords have raised on particular issues are extremely important, and I fully support their concerns. However, the way I read it, I would have thought, going back at least four or five years, that civil servants in these vast government departments would have been sitting down at that time, without being told, and looking at the legislation that was pertinent in their departments, and looking at what would be okay or what we intended to keep hold of, which would not be a priority or need to be changed. They would then have been able to see what might be a priority or concern and flag up that legislation to the Ministers concerned. I do not know whether anything like that has happened. I am listening to these debates, and it seems not to have happened at all, because we are now in 2023 and discussing, as we say, critical legislation which we are concerned about. It appears that this is being highlighted only because we are talking about the Bill.

I say to my noble friend: I am concerned about whether this will be carried through efficiently and whether the right amount of scrutiny will take place. We are in an extremely concerning situation. We should think of the number of hours that your Lordships debated this issue in this House—I was not here; I was actually in Brussels—and the fact that people knew about it. It is not a state secret, yet we still do not know which pieces of legislation we really need to keep or not. That was the work of the civil servants, and perhaps the lawyers too, in those departments, but we are in this situation now.

I hope my noble friend the Minister can reassure us about the point raised in the amendment about scrutiny now and how transparency regarding this legislation will evolve in future. There will be some that we will retain. I dealt with aviation and aerospace, and a lot of the legislation I dealt with—which was primary—had an international dimension. We complied with the international treaties, and that sort of legislation, and that in areas such as maritime, would not need to be changed. However, there are others which need to be brought into line with the situation the UK is now in, where Parliament is sovereign in determining what we must do. We in this House and the other place are responsible for making sure that any changes or updates that are made, or any sunset clauses that are brought in, are relevant, because the whole job now is to work for the benefit of the citizens of this country and for businesses—for everyone—and to make sure that this is done as efficiently as possible.

As I say, I had not intended to say very much, but this is important. All departments and everyone working in them—not just the Ministers—need to get behind all this and get moving. The people of the United Kingdom are in a very difficult position: we are post Covid, there is Ukraine, we have great challenges, and we need everything done as efficiently as possible.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour 5:30, 17 May 2023

My Lords, I too was in the European Parliament many years ago. With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, she will know that this policy—this Bill—is government-driven, not Civil Service-driven, so we should not keep blaming the Civil Service for the mess we are in. It is driven through government policy.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

Over the past few weeks we have heard again and again this sort of criticism of the Civil Service. It is hardly appropriate for the Government Benches to criticise the Civil Service when we have Ministers who should be deciding on the next thing to do. You cannot expect civil servants to pre-emptively work on things without Ministers’ permission. Please can we just stop that. It is outrageous that the Government constantly blame other people and not themselves. Please remember that.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

No, I will not let the noble Baroness intervene. She spoke at length.

I spoke yesterday evening on a regret Motion on magistrates’ courts sentencing and afterwards I was told by the Minister very politely—clearly, it was not the Minister sitting with us now—that I had spoken completely off topic. Therefore, I am hoping to be a bit better today.

This group is full of very good amendments; I support them all, and they have all been very well introduced. I am concerned in particular about air and water. In their whole 13 years the Government have done barely anything to clean up our air, and now they are expecting us to wait decades to clean up our water as well. I simply do not understand why they cannot take these basic requirements for human life seriously. I personally would be happy to vote on all these amendments, and probably thousands of others as well.

The Government have to make a clear commitment that they are not going backwards on clean air—although we do not have clean air yet—and that they are not going back on any regulations about cleaning up our air and water. I expect the Minister to make a clear commitment on that today. It is absolutely crucial. None of the things we are throwing out today will actually matter. I was assured earlier that the Government are not being “evil” in throwing out these particular ones and that they are in fact probably fairly benign, but I am not terribly confident about that. I therefore hope that the Minister can explain that they are not going backwards. Of course, I support Amendment 76.

Photo of Lord Hacking Lord Hacking Labour

My Lords, I will not get into the debate with the noble Baroness, Lady Foster. The fate of the Bill and how it is here has been correctly described by my two noble friends.

I endorse particularly what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said a few minutes ago. He said that this is an impossible task on Report and that it surely should not have been inflicted upon us. Indeed, the Bill should never have been inflicted upon us. A sensible course, which was the earlier position of the Government, was to let all EU legislation lie where it lay, and if there were a problem with any of it, to bring it to the forefront and deal with it. However, that is all history. What we are having to deal with now are the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has introduced into Schedule 1.

I took the trouble—there was not much time to do so—to read through all 111 pages of the explanatory spreadsheet as best I could. There was an immediate difficulty about that, because the regulations are not listed in the same order as they are in the Bill. That was an unnecessary complication when trying to check through. I noted that, time and again, the explanation, the “reason for revocation”, to use the exact words, reads that this regulation

“is no longer in operation, or is no longer relevant to the UK”.

That description and justification of these 928—in my arithmetic—regulations appear time and again. It must have occurred 100 times as I read it, and possibly 200, and the latter figure is the likely one. The big question is: if this has all been properly researched, is the particular regulation

“no longer in operation, or … no longer relevant to the UK”?

It must be one or the other.

My particular reason for looking through the spreadsheet was to look at what is happening to two sets of regulations, both of which I referred to on our first day on Report. I refer to the Habitat (Salt-Marsh) Regulations and the Civil Aviation (Safety of Third Country Aircraft) Regulations 2006. I could not find the latter regulation at all. I do not know where it was, but I could not see it when going through the 111 pages. The Habitat (Salt-Marsh) Regulations appeared a number of times on a number of pages, all separate and quite disconnected from the original order. I did that because I thought they were rather important environmentally. The first time they appear, they are described as being

“on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside”.

I thought that was central and something we should be thinking about. Yet, time and again, a feeble and inadequate “reason for revocation” was given.

I have to say frankly to your Lordships that this is a futile exercise, an exercise we should not have been asked to carry out, and I greatly regret that we are.

Photo of Lord Wilson of Dinton Lord Wilson of Dinton Crossbench

My Lords, as a former head of the Civil Service, I feel bound to say that the criticisms of the Civil Service which have been made are ill-judged and grossly unfair. The Civil Service will ride out these criticisms—it has a thick skin, it will put its head down and go on doing its duty—but there is a serious worry underneath this debate.

It took us 10, 15 or 20 years to join the Common Market/European Union. It was only reaching the Home Office when I became Permanent Secretary in 1994. It will take us 10, 15 or 20 years to leave the European Union. Brexit, whatever your views on it, was undertaken without a proper appraisal of what it entailed—the work and the consequences—and we are living with it with this Bill. It is the most terrible experiment with government and an enormous learning experience for the Government. It will not be done quickly, and what will slow it down is not the Civil Service but the huge volume of work involved in it.

We are dealing with 50 years of complex, detailed regulation that has been put together in consultation with vested interests and public authorities and reaches into every household in the country. I tell Ministers on the Front Bench that there are things buried in these 500-and-whatever-it-is regulations that will embarrass them, will have unforeseen consequences and will go wrong. We are in an impossible position. We cannot look at this schedule in the detail required. It is not the fault of the Civil Service but the responsibility of the Government. The consequences of it will be severe and will take years. History will write this up. It will read these debates and think about the moral involved, which is, “Do the work before you implement the policy”. I will sit down now, but I wanted to defend the Civil Service. It is not its fault that this is such a terrible and deeply worrying mess.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Foster and I do not totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wilson. My right honourable friend Jacob Rees-Mogg made it clear that he wanted all EU legislation dug out of departments and revealed by the Civil Service. Very little happened. I thought it was the job of the Civil Service to obey the instructions of Ministers.

Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour

I commend to those on the other side who share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, an article this morning by the Conservative Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein. It is in the Times and it is worth reading. It is about the tendency to set impossible demands and then to blame the failure to achieve them on the blob. It is the finest article I have read on this tendency and, in terms of education, I think it would be well worth some people on the other side reading their noble colleague’s comments.

All I can say, and I held office in nine departments of state, is that there were occasions when I would have liked to ask civil servants to give me a plan to double expenditure on the Armed Forces, to build 500,000 houses, to make everyone happy. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that I did not ask them so to do, not because I thought they were a blob and would resist it but because I knew it was an impossible demand I was placing on them. In all nine departments, when I made some challenging demands, the civil servants responded—but I would not ask them to do something that was impossible, or to take a course of action for which the work had not been done in advance, or where I disregarded the consequentials, the downstream incidentals, that I had not thought about. The Government did all three of those things with Brexit, and they are now paying the price.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, the other day when we were debating the Bill, a number of people stood up, largely on this side of the House, and said that it was inappropriate to make Second Reading speeches or grand speeches about politics and that this was not about Brexit. I tried to say that maybe the Bill was a new Bill and we should be able to regardless, and I was told off for that.

What we have just seen demonstrates to me why we have a difficulty, both in this House and in the country, when it comes to what people feel about the Bill that we are discussing and the general political situation that we are in. It is true that I do not blame the blob. However, I blame many of the people in the House of Lords, among others, who tried to say that when the decision was made in 2016, regardless of what you thought of it, the British public had got it wrong. They slowed down the process and did everything to obstruct what needed to be done to extricate the United Kingdom’s law, which it had been decided to take back control of, from the European Union.

Your Lordships will notice that that is not a popular position in this House in general. We had a rather glib, witty and smug repartee earlier about the tiger Brexiteers and so forth. The serious job of doing what the British public—who are the important people in all this—told politicians to do was neglected for years. The obstructions keep coming. Some of them might be from the Civil Service but I tend to agree, and I even said this earlier, that we should not blame the blob.

Anyway, we have an opportunity with this amendment. I do not agree with many of the amendments but I was interested enough to say, “Okay, let’s scrutinise what we are doing here and go through them all”. As people have said—for example, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, raised some interesting points—I want to be able to understand what is going on.

I understand that it is a task and a half, but what has effectively been said in the last few contributions is that it was too difficult to do this when we decided to do it in 2016. How could we possibly envisage it? We could never do it, but we should not blame the blob because of course Brexit itself was impossible to do. So the British public are effectively being told that it is too difficult. The Bill, for all its imperfections, at least tried to say, “It’s about time, after all that time trying to block it, that we get on and take the instructions of the British public”. We should at least be humble enough to acknowledge that, as far as the British public are concerned, this has been an attempt at blocking their decisions. Let us take the Bill seriously now.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

“Shut up”?—well done. I am just saying: let us get on with the Bill seriously rather than keeping on blaming each other. That was my point in the first place. Drop the smug tone.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Perhaps I can remind the House that we have been incredibly patient but noble Lords should stick to debating the amendments rather than general points. Perhaps we can get on and make some progress.

Photo of Baroness Lawlor Baroness Lawlor Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 64 and the other amendments in this group. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the amendment, which, as far as I can count, includes around 120 pieces of subordinate legislation. I welcome it on the grounds of principle and practice.

In practice, it is important to end the limbo between two legal systems for cost, compliance and otherwise. Moreover, there are other good reasons for doing so. The uncertainty of the EU’s codified arrangements, adopted or absorbed into our own laws, results in two overlapping systems that add cost and compliance burdens to all concerned and, I am afraid, often lack clarity. I hesitate to mention such arrangements in your Lordships’ House, given the presence of so many eminent members of the judiciary, but perhaps I might do so as an ordinary person who has had to have recourse to both systems of law.

In my experience, our law is clear; it gives people the power to seek a remedy where another party breaks the law to our disadvantage. Under the European system, of which I have also had experience, despite its code-based arrangements and its precautionary principle, which seeks to cover every eventuality, not only does it sometimes fail to do so but there is often no remedy available to people or small businesses if a wrong is done to them. There are just more codes, more compliance, more directives and more consultations with the lawyers to be paid for, and little in the end to be done other than put up with it and hope it will be righted in due course.

For this reason, while I welcome the sentiment behind the noble Baronesses’ proposals in their carve- out amendments on the National Emission Ceilings Regulations and the Water Resources (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations—I am very sympathetic to their aims and have spoken on that in earlier debates—I am sceptical as to whether this is the best way of achieving such aims. I believe it is important to respect our own laws and have greater confidence that the principles on which they rest will reflect the interests of the people in whose name they are made. This country is second to none generally in its commitment to caring for its environment and, having heard noble Lords talk about chairing the Woodland Trust and so on, it is clear that there is huge voluntary support for protecting our environment. I believe our own laws will reflect that interest and we really must get on with giving them a chance.

In the Environment Act 2021 and its impact assessment of December 2019, the principle is clear that the polluter pays. Yes, precautions must be taken and problems righted at source, but the polluter pays principle means that instead of victims, others are having to suffer the consequences. Rather than the polluter being penalised, other people would have to suffer the consequences and pay the price, and I think that our system will be clear and fairer.

I am not sure, either, that the EU regulations covering emissions are necessarily effective. I draw on the historic case of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, when there were clear directives from 2008—updated in 2012—covering the emissions from cars. These were neglected or not enforced, and the knowledge that that was happening went right up to the Government. I am confident in our own system of law, and I think it does work.

I hate to disagree with such a distinguished civil servant as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, but I am not going to take sides on the question of who is to blame for non-rapidity. I worked with the head of the German hospital division in the decade after the unification of Germany. The country was unified at the stroke of a pen, so it can be done. I only know about the health system there, not all the other areas such as the economy, where historic problems were inherited.

I welcome the commitment to revoke the legislation listed. I hope the noble Baronesses will put their trust in our own laws and give their energies to an aim which I share. It is important for a more effective system and for clarity and efficiency, so that people, businesses, charities and government departments know where they stand.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business)

My Lords, I dare say that the Conservative Party could use the experience the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, has in unifying Germany to perhaps unify itself.

This has been a rancorous debate and before I join in, I have a bit of housekeeping to do with the Minister. When he was still trying to push 5,000 laws over a cliff edge at the end of last year, on a number of occasions he used examples to illustrate the intrinsically trivial nature of all 5,000. One of the examples he used was legislation referring to reindeers and another was legislation referring to olive trees. I have studied the list, alongside the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, and I find no mention of reindeers or olive trees. Can I assume that those laws will remain on the statute book—or did they not in fact exist in the first place?

As we heard from my noble friends Lady Bakewell and Lady Brinton, we on these Benches really welcome the Government’s 180 degree U-turn. However, the breathless nature of that U-turn brought with it problems. We are debating those problems now because, in choosing not to eliminate 5,000 anonymous regulations—in essence, regulations that we did not need to know about—and in having to choose the regulations that will be revoked, the Government have had to publish this schedule very late and, even later, give us guidance on the decision-making process that went into putting those regulations on that list.

My noble friend Lady Brinton’s experience in trying to track a legacy of statutory instruments and regulations that did not get properly documented, in a way that was easy to follow, completely illustrates what the Civil Service was seeking to do 5,000 times—and many of those cases were even more complex, I dare say, than the case my noble friend Lady Brinton dealt with. In order to do that, the first thing the Civil Service had to do was to find those regulations and laws.

When the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, talked about it being the Civil Service’s role to dig up these regulations, he was not far from the truth. Many of these regulations were located at the bottom of a salt mine in an archive—I am not joking—in the north-west of this country. They had to don their safety gear and go underground to seek out these regulations. That is the level of digging-out that had to happen in order to do this.

That is why it is extraordinarily unfair to then put the blame on people who do not have a voice and are not able to answer back. They are lucky to have the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, to stand up for them, but it is bullying behaviour to bully people who do not have a voice. To my namesake, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and others, I say that “the blob” is an entirely derogatory term. These are people who do a job, and to roll them up and call them a blob is deeply offensive and against those people’s welfare.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, set up exactly the problem we have here. I have hope in “Hope’s amendments”—that we can at least regain some control. I remind noble Lords that we also passed a non-regression amendment that should deal with some of these issues. It is, as the noble and learned Lord said, not an ideal situation.

I look forward to the Minister’s response on the specifics, but deep in the heart of this whole process is a problem. The problem is that the Government set out to do something in too short a time, when they did not even know how big the job was in the first place. When they found out, they drew back. Now, they are trying to blame other people. The Government have no one but themselves to blame for the mess over which they are now officiating.

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, the final debate on this Bill has highlighted just what a shambolic process this has been. We were glad to receive the explainer that the Government produced to accompany the new schedule, which is what we are supposed to be arguing about now in this group. But it was late, badly formatted and, as we have heard, not easily usable by some colleagues.

What we are experiencing this afternoon is the frustration that we have all felt with that element of the process and with this Bill since its introduction. At the climax of the process, we find ourselves just as confused and concerned as at the outset. There has not been adequate time to examine the contents of the schedule. Noble Lords have had to use this Report debate to try to get answers from Ministers on some of the specifics. This is exactly what we thought would happen. It is why we supported the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, on Monday, and why we will support his Amendment 76. We have debated it already. It will be voted on immediately after this group. We need the safeguards that these amendments provide. Given the way in which this Bill has been handled, the Government need these safeguards too.

There has been a collective sigh of relief from charities, businesses, environmental organisations and food producers, following the months of pointless uncertainty caused by this Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, there has not been the consultation or engagement on important issues which would give us the confidence to wave this schedule through. It cannot be right that noble Lords are asked to agree a list in a matter of days. I commend the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell, Lady Brinton and Lady Hayman, for spotting regulations that need further consideration. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Foster of Oxton, and to those who agree with her, that is not the job of civil servants to have done this work and to have decided which regulations should stay and which laws should be our laws. This is the job of Ministers, of Members of this and the other place. This is what Parliament is for. I look forward to everyone who believes in this principle on these Benches and on the Benches opposite joining us in the Content Lobby after this debate in voting for Amendment 76 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) 6:00, 17 May 2023

My Lords, I thank the House for yet another fascinating debate, only a small part of which had anything to do with the amendments we were discussing.

I will make an observation before we get into debating the amendments. I have had the privilege of being in government since 2017—for six years in three different departments. I have worked with some excellent officials, who have provided me with nothing but unstinting support. As an example, we tabled this schedule late last week—in response, I might say, to concerns expressed in this House, in an attempt by me, as the Minister, and the Government to allay the concerns that many in this House had expressed about legislation being repealed by accident. That was never our intention. It would never have happened. These regulations would have been revoked anyway but we thought it would be helpful and for the benefit of the House to set them out.

A number of Members then asked for further details about the individual regulations. Officials across government, in the Bill team and elsewhere, worked tirelessly all weekend to get the explainer to this schedule done so as to answer the concerns of Members. They worked very hard and are a credit to the Civil Service. Let me be clear, the responsibility lies with Ministers. Civil servants produced the advice, but I approved the revocation schedule for my department, DESNZ—the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. Other Ministers approved it in their departments. Responsibility is clearly at a political level, and I will have nothing said against the Civil Service. Certainly, the Bill team worked incredibly hard all weekend, as they have done throughout the production of this Bill.

I turn to the amendments under discussion. As I said, we published the explainer to give an extensive line-by-line explanation that provides a clear justification, for the benefit of Members, for each entry on that schedule. I outlined the rationale for including the regulations flagged up by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in my opening speech. I hope that she does not want me to repeat those points on the national air pollution control plan and the national emissions ceiling directive, which are no longer in force. These depend on one another. The current format of the NAPCP is long, complicated, resource-intensive and duplicative. Removal of these particular regulations will allow us to move away from the overly burdensome system that we inherited.

Similarly, in my opener, I explained why Amendment 64ZA, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, is also duplicative, given other active environmental impact assessment regulations. No environmental impact assessment regulations have been made under those particular regulations since 2003. It is no longer necessary to have this on our statute book.

On Amendment 64ZB, I spoke to the specifics of the food-labelling regulations referenced, but I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that the laws to be revoked within the FSA’s remit have generally been superseded by new legislation and no longer need to remain on the statute book. Even the EU has revoked the regulations. Some have already had their operative provisions revoked, and others exist to amend or enforce legislation that has itself already been revoked.

The noble Baroness also raised enforcement. We provided additional details to her by email, but, as she knows, Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 828/2014 laid down harmonised requirements for the provision of information to consumers on the absence or reduced presence of gluten in food, by setting out the conditions under which foods may be labelled “gluten-free” or “very low gluten”. That particular regulation remains in force and will be preserved as part of the retained EU law process. Sufficient powers are already in place under general food law to enforce the definitions. The chair of the Food Standards Agency wrote to us last week to confirm this position and to reinforce that removing them will help to make the body of law on food safety and standards clearer, while being entirely consistent with the principles agreed by the FSA board.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I forwarded to him and his officials the response that I received from both the FSA and Coeliac UK, which said that this was a temporary arrangement, until 828/2014 could be introduced as a regulation under UK legislation; in other words, it is still needed. So I repeat my question: the Government consulted in 2016, and it is now seven years on, so when will that regulation be shown to the House?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I will pass the noble Baroness’s comments on to Defra, which will write to her again, but she has already received replies to her concerns in emails and she has spoken to Bill team officials about this. As I said, the FSA has said that it is entirely happy that this regulation should be revoked.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

I wonder whether I can help the Minister. I support what he said today, and I congratulate him on how he started and what he said about the Civil Service. But I wonder whether he might want to think, before Third Reading, about the addition of an emergency brake. I share the worries of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope: supposing it turns out that something is needed and that, before the deadline—before they disappear—a real case is established, could the Government not give themselves the power, by statutory instrument, to leave a particular regulation off the schedule, or to amend the schedule by statutory instrument before the deadline, simply to remove a regulation that it turns out is there in error? I do not ask for an instant reaction, but perhaps the Minister might like to think about this before Third Reading.

Noble Lords:

Third Reading!

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

We are on Report. We do not need to wait until the next stage; I can tell the noble Lord now that there is a power in the amendments to allow exactly that. He does not need to have any further concerns about it.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I say that the UK remains committed to international agreements on air pollution, to which we are an independent signatory. We set new, legally binding targets under the Environment Act and the environmental improvement plan to halt and to reverse nature’s decline. The stretching targets mean that any reform to retained EU law must deliver positive environmental outcomes, and nothing in this schedule alters those commitments. I hope that reassures the noble Baroness.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and his famous salt mine example, I am sorry to tell him that he is wrong. The National Archives found its pieces of retained EU law in its EU legislation database, which is now online. The noble Lord might want to consult the internet next time, rather than crawling down his salt mine. One of my officials said that she would have loved to have gone down a salt mine—it would have been a very interesting experience—but she did not need to.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I can absolutely assure him: she would have been delighted to go down a salt mine. I will not name her, but she messaged me to say that she was very keen to do so. Perhaps the noble Lord would want to arrange it for her.

The noble Lord also mentioned several regulations which are good examples of EU-inherited provisions that we may no longer need. He may not realise it, but some regulations perform multiple functions—we want to revoke some and to keep or reform others. To update and improve the regulations, we of course need to keep them for now, so that we can make those changes.

I had a feeling that the noble Lord might ask me about the famous reindeer regulation. Indeed, Regulation 1308/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council includes provisions on reindeer, which we want to revoke because, the last time I looked, there were not many in the United Kingdom for which we need to have responsibility—perhaps even the noble Lord could agree with that. But there are other aspects of the regulation that we want to keep; therefore, in due course, there will be a reform programme which will alter that regulation. Of course, the House will get to see that through a statutory instrument at the time. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will want to engage with the Defra Minister in a meaningful debate on how important it is for the Liberal Democrats to preserve the preservation of reindeer in Lapland.

Finally, I turn to the issue of interpretative effects. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked again for clarity on the Government’s intention. I assure her that the Government’s intentions have not changed in this regard. As she will be aware, the House agreed to Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, on Monday, which seeks to replace the sunset of Section 4 of the EU withdrawal Act at the end of each year with a requirement for the Secretary of State to make a statement on the Section 4 rights and obligations which will be sunsetted at the end of this year. The House can be assured that the Government will address that.

Clauses 5 and 6, which relate to the ending of the principle of supremacy, including the principle of consistent interpretation or indirect effect and ending the application of general principles of EU law, will stand part of the Bill, as agreed by the House.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Before the noble Lord sits down, I remind him that I asked a number of questions about areas other than air pollution—for example, on flooding. I wonder if the Minister could look through Hansard and write to me with a response to those questions before we reach Third Reading.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Minister for his response and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for her support. I thank all noble Lords who took part in this very lively debate, particularly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, whose concerns I share completely.

In the time available, it has been impossible for most of us to go into detail on the schedule to the extent that my noble friend Lady Brinton did, and I commend her for her efforts in that respect. The Minister will have realised from the debate that there is concern across the House at the lack of opportunity to scrutinise these regulations. I do not share the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Foster of Oxton, that this is all the fault of the Civil Service.

The Civil Service is under pressure, and occasionally mistakes do occur, but the dire situation we are in now is not its fault: it is the fault of the way in which the Government have gone about this piece of legislation, and I admire the Minister for his acceptance of that responsibility. The number of Defra’s instruments in the Marshalled List before us is overwhelming. I thank my noble friend Lord Fox for his very stirring summing up, which I cannot hope to match. The Minister set out his case at the start of the debate, and it is regrettable that he is not prepared to move on these issues. In the interests of time, and in the face of that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 64ZA (to Amendment 64) withdrawn.

Amendment 64ZB (to Amendment 64) not moved.

Amendment 64A (to Amendment 64) not moved.

Amendment 64B (to Amendment 64) not moved.‘

Amendment 64 agreed.

Schedule 4: Regulations: procedure