New Clause 10 - Equality impact assessments

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

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy) 2:15, 29 November 2022

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—