New Clause 10 - Equality impact assessments

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform Bill) – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 29th November 2022.

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“(1) This section applies when—

(a) a relevant national authority is making regulations under section 12, 13, 15 or 16, or

(b) EU-derived subordinate legislation or retained direct EU legislation is to be revoked under section 1(1) of this Act and regulations made under section 2 do not apply to that legislation.

(2) Six weeks prior to the coming into force of the regulations or (as the case may be) three months before the revocation of the legislation, a relevant national authority must lay before Parliament a report demonstrating that in making the regulations or allowing the revocation of the legislation the authority has fulfilled its obligations under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.

(3) If the report required by subsection (2) is not laid before Parliament by the date required by subsection (2), the regulations may not be made or (as the case may be) the legislation is, notwithstanding section 1(1), not revoked.”—

This new clause will insert the requirement for undertaking an equality impact assessment when using the powers afforded by sections 12, 13, 15, and 16, and before the application of section 1(1) (sunset of retained EU law).

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 11—Impact assessments—

“(1) This section applies when—

(a) a relevant national authority is making regulations under section 12, 13, 15 or 16, or

(b) EU-derived subordinate legislation or retained direct EU legislation is to be revoked under section 1(1) of this Act and regulations made under section 2 do not apply to that legislation.

(2) Six weeks prior to the coming into force of the regulations or (as the case may be) three months before the revocation of the legislation, a relevant national authority must lay before Parliament the report required by subsection (3).

(3) The report required by this subsection must outline the impact the authority expects the regulations or (as the case may be) revocation to have on—

(a) the UK’s obligations under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement,

(b) divergence in standards, rights, protections and regulatory burden between component parts of the UK,

(c) the regulatory burden for businesses seeking to import or export goods or services, and

(d) level playing field provisions contained within bilateral trade agreements between the UK and countries outside the EU.

(4) If the report required by subsection (3) is not laid before Parliament by the date required by subsection (2), the regulations may not be made or (as the case may be) the legislation is, notwithstanding section 1(1), not revoked.”

This new clause will insert the requirement for taking out a comprehensive impact assessment when using the powers afforded by sections 12, 13, 15, and 16, and before the application of section 1(1) (sunset of retained EU law).

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

The Government have a track record of inadequate impact assessments going back a few years, and they are not showing much sign of improvement with this Bill. Labour sees it as our duty to push for new clauses that would force the Government to wake up and properly assess the impact of this Bill and policies that will flow from it. As we are approaching the end of proceedings, I will try to keep this brief.

Subsections (1) and (2) of both new clauses should be somewhat familiar to those who have been following our new clauses closely. In both new clauses, subsection (1) simply states that the new clauses would apply to national authorities making regulations under clauses 12, 13, 15 and 16, or section section 1(1), and subsection (2) mimics the timeframe stipulations in our other new clauses; it requires that at least six weeks before the legislation comes into force, or at least three months before it is revoked, a report should be laid before the House that sets out the issues outlined in the new clauses.

The two new clauses differ in the issues that the impact assessments are designed to tackle. New clause 10 focuses on the impact that modifications will have on each authority’s obligations under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. If Members are unaware of what that includes, it is a duty to consider the need to

“eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act…advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it” and

“foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.”

Those are principles that I hope all members of the Committee can sign up to, so it should not be seen as an unreasonable requirement on the Government to prepare such an assessment. In fact, I would be deeply concerned if they were not planning to do that as a matter of course.

The Minister told us last week that the Government were committed to retaining all necessary equality legislation. Leaving aside the question of who decides whether legislation is necessary, if the Government were committed to maintaining equality, they would surely as a matter of course want to know the impact on equalities of all the changes that Ministers are giving themselves the power to make under the Bill. All the new clause does is require the Government to lay a report on these issues before Parliament in good time. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to undertake equality impact assessments of each legislative change in the Bill? He mentioned this morning that there was a commitment to undertaking assessments, but I do not think that we specifically heard that there would be equality impact assessments.

I remain sceptical that we will get the full and proper assessments that we need, because there has been little time and space for proper scrutiny and assessment of the consequences of the powers that Ministers are giving themselves in the Bill. That is, of course, not an accident. As I argued last week, it is by design, so that as little attention as possible is drawn to the impact of any changes that the Bill may deliver.

Photo of Tom Randall Tom Randall Conservative, Gedling

I stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that equality impact assessments under the 2010 Act are not a legal requirement anymore. If I am right on that—I may not be—are the Opposition requiring an equality impact assessment for this Bill alone, or is this part of a broader change in their approach?

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

Of course, we can talk only about the effects of the Bill, so the proposal is limited to the Bill at this stage. If the hon. Member has been listening throughout the last three days, he will know that Ministers’ powers to revoke and amend EU legislation have a range of potential implications on equalities. That is why an assessment is particularly important in this instance. Our concern is that the Government do not want it in the public domain that changes under the legislation will lead to Equality Act obligations being failed or less stringent. They seem to be trying to ensure, either by accident or design, that the legislation passes without the microscope of scrutiny and assessment that we think is necessary when talking about basic protections and equality laws.

We parliamentarians should be concerned about the consequences of any legislation that we pass. Our new clauses address that. They do not just set out a requirement to report on obligations under the Equality Act. In new clause 11 we ask for a more general impact assessment, including of the effect on our obligations under the trade and co-operation agreement, which we discussed briefly, and on divergences in rights, standards protections and regulatory burdens in the component parts of the UK. We discussed that, and why it is important, this morning.

We have already discussed the regulatory burdens incurred by businesses seeking to import and export goods and services, and the level playing field provisions in bilateral trade agreements between the UK and the EU, so I will not detain the Committee by setting out why those assessments are vital for the Bill. One would hope that those issues were being factored into any decisions made by Ministers under the powers in the Bill, but there are two key problems that would be made less likely as a result of the impact assessments under new clause 11. Proposed new subsection (3)(a) and (d) would ensure that the assessment highlighted the potential for changes to break international trade obligations. Proposed new subsection (3)(b) and (c) would require the assessment to ensure that the impact on our economy was minimal.

The Minister does not need me to tell him that if the Government decide that basic employment or environmental protections should no longer apply, they will potentially be in breach of the level playing field provisions in the TCA. That is probably the headline example of why we think that impact assessments are important. We certainly do not want to enter into a trade war. All we ask is that the Government make available to parliamentarians the details of what they have taken into consideration. Given how short a period the Government have in which to process every retained law, it is important that the assessment is available to parliamentarians. It will help us to identify any potential burdens on businesses and, significantly, whether there will be divergences across the country—an issue that we have already discussed. It is important that those issues are picked up at an early stage before regulations are passed.

We rely on the Government to undertake the necessary due diligence, but at the moment, we parliamentarians will not see the benefit of it. That is why I tabled the new clauses. We are trying not to place unreasonable restrictions on the Government, but we parliamentarians need the right information to scrutinise the changes. Unfortunately, assessments in recent times have been pretty flimsy. The Regulatory Policy Committee described the impact assessment for the Bill as “weak” or “very weak” in every respect. It said:

“As first submitted, the IA was not fit for purpose as it failed to consider adequately the full impacts of the Bill, in line with RPC primary legislation guidance. Specifically, the RPC highlighted, in its initial review, that the IA had not…provided a clear baseline position, with respect to the overall number of REUL”, which of course is something that we are still waiting to get to the bottom of,

“that was in scope of the Bill and would, potentially, be retained, amended or sunset”.

We have discussed the question of what is in scope. The report also said that the impact assessment had not

“clarified whether other legislation that is in progress, will have impacts on some of the REUL contained in the overall figure of over 2,400 pieces of REUL”, or 3,800, depending on which report we believe.

The Regulatory Policy Committee also said:

“The Department was not clear on how the different legislation would interact with the Bill”, nor had it

“discussed, or set out, any examples of the REUL that is likely to be sunset, despite the Department having previously published extensive assessments of candidate REUL that could be changed or removed…The Department had not drawn upon any evidence or analysis, which was used to support those prior legislative changes, to provide an indication of the potential impacts associated with amending/replacing” legislation, nor had it

“provided a more considered assessment of the full range of impacts of the Bill”, so—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

We will continue with the excellent speech being made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. If you feel that there are points that we may have forgotten, you may wish to repeat them.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

With that encouragement, I will start from the beginning. Hon. Members will be relieved to hear that I was actually reaching my peroration. The new clauses are designed to address our concerns about the amount of consideration that has been given to the Bill’s impact. We are continually told that this is a framework Bill. What confidence can we have that there will be sufficient assessment of the powers in the Bill? It is not outlandish or unreasonable to ask the Government to identify and critique the impact of the changes that they intend to make. Any prudent Government would seek to do that, given the nature of the Bill. For that reason, I hope that the Minister will finally agree, at the fag end of this Committee, to the new clause.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Minister of State (Minister for Climate)

I ask the Committee to reject the new clause. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government take their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 very seriously. We would never intend to bring forward legislation that does not comply with that law. The Government will continue to provide equality impact assessments for regulations that engage a relevant public sector equality duty, as is good practice. We follow our responsibilities under the Equality Act, and will continue to do so when the Bill becomes law. With no further ado, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider withdrawing the new clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.