“(1) Each relevant national authority must, within 28 days of the passage of this Act, lay before Parliament a report on—
(a) the projected cost incurred by each Government department or relevant national authority of complying with the requirements of sections 1 to 23 of this Act;
(b) the projected number of staff required by each Government department or relevant national authority to process all of the relevant retained EU law by the deadline in section 1(1);
(c) the amount of Parliamentary time expected to be needed to process the legislation relevant to each Government department or relevant national authority; and
a timeline outlining how each Government department or relevant national authority plans to meet the deadline in section 1(1).”—(Justin Madders.)
This new clause will establish the requirement for relevant departments to publish an assessment of the impact of processing through all the retained EU Law before the deadline set by Clause 1(1).
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
We are almost back where we started, with questions about governance and capacity. Despite spending the best part of three days scrutinising the Bill, we are no closer to getting satisfactory answers. The new clause requires each national authority to produce a report for its Parliament within 28 days of the Bill becoming law, setting out the costs that each Department expects to incur in complying with the Bill’s requirements, the projected number of staff required to process all the retained EU law before the 2023 cliff edge, and the amount of parliamentary time that will be needed to deal with all the legislation. Most importantly, the new clause requires national authorities to produce a plan for how that deadline will be met.
I hope that Members see why there is a need for that report. We are concerned, if not alarmed, about the level of denial in Government about what they are letting themselves in for. There will be consequences, possibly negative ones, because of that lack of understanding of the task ahead. Any big project needs a critical analysis of timescales, resources and capacity.
Say the Government decided to build a giant gas pipeline all the way to Arctic, and someone said, “Let’s have it done by the end of next year.” People might reasonably ask whether one could build a pipeline of that length in just over a year. If all we parliamentarians got back was an assurance that each Department had teams looking at what was involved, we might question whether those plans were realistic. If we were lucky, that Arctic pipeline might reach the Shetland islands by the end of next year. The Bill is that pipeline. It is a hopelessly optimistic, totally unrealistic and frankly reckless attempt to achieve something on a timescale that is driven entirely by political rather than practical considerations. For the umpteenth time, completing this task by the end of next year is not going to stop Brexit, because we have already left the European Union.
Let me deal with each component of the new clause. The first part is about cost. We were told that leaving the EU would reduce our costs and burdens, but the Government have commissioned the National Archives to do a job it seemed incapable of doing—identifying all the relevant laws that would be covered by the Bill. How much did that exercise cost? We know from the former Minister, Dean Russell, that the exercise has so far not produced an ideal outcome. He told us that the dashboard, which is the preferred method for identifying retained EU law,
“presents an authoritative, not comprehensive, catalogue of REUL.”
There might be an interesting conversation about whether the dashboard is money well spent. Of course, we failed in our bid to have the Bill contain all the laws affected by it, because Government members decided that legislating by dashboard is a far more helpful approach. If we could get the Government to make at least some estimate of costs, then they would have to do their own assessment, Department by Department, of what was involved. Although we would not then have a comprehensive list—or at least not until the dashboard was updated—we would at least have the comfort of knowing that each Department knew what was involved.
The Government ought to know what the Bill is looking at. The exercise should have been comprehensive in the first place. I will say it again: if the Government cannot accurately produce a list, the question ought to be: why they are insistent on creating this unnecessary risk? It seems that this approach is designed to create as little transparency as possible.
The second limb of the new clause relates to the report in the Financial Times on
“Whitehall insiders said that reviewing the majority of retained EU law by 2023 would present a massive bureaucratic burden. One senior Whitehall official estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 statutory instruments would be required in order to convert retained EU law that was deemed necessary on to the UK statute book.”
Mark Fenhalls said in evidence to the Committee:
“I am no expert in how much civil service time exists, but I would be astonished if it were remotely possible to cover but a fraction of this. I do not know why it is set up as anything other than a political problem.”––[Official Report, Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Public Bill Committee,
There is no end of pressing challenges for this Government, so how much capacity is there to focus on this very important task? Going back to the pipeline analogy, we do not want something full of holes because there have not been enough people to do the job properly. We certainly do not want workers’ rights, health and safety laws, environmental protections or airline safety rules to be lost or reintroduced in a negative way because there were not enough people to do the necessary work. We want to ensure that negative consequences are avoided.
That leads to questions about how everything will knit together in the time available. As Professor Barnard said in evidence,
“what is the internal process? Even if the Secretary of State in DEFRA decides that he or she wants to retain all the legislation because it is so important in different forms, what happens? Does it go to the Cabinet? Is there some sort of star chamber that looks at what is being proposed by the Departments? We know none of that, and we know none of the detail about whether there will be any consultation with external stakeholders, which is particularly important in the field of agriculture, where a large number of stakeholders are affected.”––[Official Report, Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Public Bill Committee,
I accept that we will not get the openness, scrutiny and consultation that we Opposition Members believe is needed on a Bill of this significance, but as I said with regard to the first limb of this new clause, if the Government were required to turn their mind to the work involved, and to report to Parliament, we might be a little more comfortable that the Bill will not turn out to be the mess that many people fear it will. I say “many people”; I include among them the 14 national organisations representing businesses, unions and civil society that wrote to the Secretary of State last week asking for the Bill to be withdrawn. They include such august bodies as the Institute of Directors, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the TUC. I have not heard anything in Committee in the past few days that persuades me that those organisations are not recommending the right course of action.
The final limb of the new clause is about the amount of parliamentary time that will be needed. Sadly, there will not be as much of that as we would have had if some of our earlier amendments had been accepted. As it stands, there is a huge question about whether sufficient parliamentary time will be available to properly scrutinise the elements of the Bill that the Government think are sufficiently important for parliamentarians to consider. As Eleonor Duhs told us in the evidence session,
“In order to get the statute book ready for Brexit, which was in some ways a much more simple task than this, it took over two years and over 600 pieces of legislation. The reason I say it was a simpler task is that we were essentially making the statute book work without the co-operation framework of the EU…That was a much simpler task than what we have here, and that took over two and a half years…There may be huge policy changes under this legislation, and the end of 2023 is simply not a realistic timeframe for the process.”––[Official Report, Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Public Bill Committee,
Departments have to consider these changes alongside all their other priorities and commitments by the latter half of 2023—six to eight months at best. They would benefit at least from knowing what Ministers’ understanding of the parliamentary call on time will be for doing that.
We do not think this Bill is at all realistic. The setting of the arbitrary and clearly impractical sunset date is an entirely unnecessary risk to the preservation of these important rules for businesses, consumers, employees and the environment. The way the Bill is framed is an unnecessarily reckless step into the unknown for the sake of an easy headline now. The price will be many more negative headlines later when we see the fallout, and the failure to prepare properly becomes apparent. That is why we think the new clause is necessary.
You will be surprised to learn, Sir Gary, that I ask the Committee to reject the new clause. I apologise to Government Members for the Opposition’s mournful tone. They may not realise that, here we are, restoring our sovereignty in this Parliament—restoring our law, rather than being subject to that of a foreign sovereign.
Through the legislation that my colleagues and I are helping to proceed through this House, we are seeking to ensure that this law is fit for the needs of the UK, Department by Department. We are challenging Departments to look at retained EU law to ensure it is fit for purpose. I admit we are giving them a challenging deadline by which to do that, but I make no apology for doing that, and nor does any other Government Member. We are ambitious; we want to get on with growing the UK economy and ensure we do so in the right way. The new clause would place an unnecessary and laborious burden on the very officials who should be dedicating their time to delivering the retained EU law reform programme.
I am impressed by the Minister’s ambition, although I am not sure that everybody shares his confidence. Will he share with the Committee how realistic it is that that ambition will be realised? He will know that the previous Secretary of State, Mr Rees-Mogg, was advised that, in his Department alone, it would take 400 civil servants to work on the 300 laws that need revision. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that will have on the Department’s other work? If that figure is wrong, what is the correct figure? I am sure that, behind all that rhetoric, an awful lot of detailed work has gone on to work out how this will be put into practice.
I recognise that the retained EU law reform programme is a significant piece of work. However, it is the quickest and most efficient way to deliver the Bill’s objective and end retained EU law as a legal category in its current form—something that everyone who accepts the result of the referendum—
The hon. Gentleman, who represents the SNP, does, of course, have a problem with accepting the results of referendums. He never likes the result they come to! Those who have accepted the result will recognise that this is the best way to incentivise genuine reform of retained EU law in ways that work for all four nations of the UK and are consistent with the devolution settlements.
If the Minister checks his record, he will find that in three of the four referendums I have voted in in Scotland, Scotland voted in accordance with my wishes, and only one of those has been in any way respected by the present Government. The Minister gave a great oration about how important it is for him that the laws affecting his country are made by his country. Could he then explain why it is that when he wants the laws that affect his country to be made by a Government elected by his country, he is a patriot, but when I want the laws affecting my country to be made by the Government elected by the people of my country, I am a narrow-minded separatist? Why is that?
Of course, the hon. Gentleman is part of Parliament. That is why he is sitting in this United Kingdom Parliament—because, when his electors and electors across Scotland were asked, “Do you want to be in an independent Scotland?”, they said no. Despite that, this false narrative is pushed on a daily basis by the separatists opposite, who try to suggest that they are being held against their will. In fact, the only will they are being held against is the will of the Scottish people, who refuse to comply with the demands of the separatist SNP, which does not listen to the results of a referendum taking place in Scotland.
Getting back to the Bill, Departments will be expected to develop a delivery plan that outlines their intention for each piece of retained EU law. The Brexit Opportunities Unit will work with Departments to draw up those delivery plans and ensure the legislative process proceeds smoothly. The delivery plans will be subject to scrutiny via an internal Government process or ministerial stocktake process. More information on that will follow, including information on how to factor these processes into statutory instrument timetables.
Turning to the body of law we are talking about, we are currently engaging with the National Archives to uncover any additional information on retained EU law. However, it is worth nothing that many statutory instruments uncovered by the National Archives have been recognised either as orphaned statutory instruments or as no longer applicable to our current legal framework. We are exploring various ways—whether that is star chambers or using the dashboard—to identify what REUL is kept or sunsetted. Although individual Departments will take responsibility, we in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be helping to co-ordinate this across Government.
It is helpful that the Minister has given us some insight into the work of the National Archives. When does he think those regulations—whether orphaned or not—will appear on the dashboard so that we can see them? They are currently opaque for the rest of us.
The National Archives has a statutory duty, as the King’s printer, to ensure the statute book is accurate, so asking it to look at REUL is in its existing remit, and—going back to the question from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston—it does not cost additional money. It is actually a fundamental part of its work. It is working on that and, like him, I hope to see progress as quickly as possible.
The Government have proved during the Brexit transition and covid-19 that they can deliver extensive legislative programmes to tight deadlines. In so many ways—I should not stray from the subject, so I will not—we have learned from those programmes, and will work with Parliament to bring an even more successful REUL SI programme before the House. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston to consider withdrawing his new clause.
We have had a slightly lively end to the proceedings. I want to pick up on some of the comments made by the Minister. He characterised our opposition to the Bill as not being ambitious—well, if we are in league with the Institute of Directors in saying that this Bill should be withdrawn, I cannot think of a more ambitious bunch of people. Its correct characterisation is that anyone who thinks the timescales in this Bill are realistic is deluded. There is a difference between reality and ambition, and at some point the Government will find the two colliding. I do not want be on the Government Benches when we have to deal with the fallout from that.
We’ll see about that.
Whichever Benches I am on, I will always hold firm to the view that Parliament should be sovereign, and that Parliament should be the body that looks at laws and considers changes that affect our constituents. People voted in 2016 for Parliament to take back control, but the Bill does not do that; it gives control to Ministers. It wrenches control away from Parliament and the people we represent. At the core of this is a lack of transparency and a lack of confidence in the Government’s programme, because if they cannot tell us what they intend to do with the Bill and they do not want the light of scrutiny shone on their intentions, it suggests that they are not confident about what the public will say when those intentions become clear. A Government who are not confident in their own policies should not have the confidence of the public. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
On a spurious point of order, Sir Gary—no point of order is ever spurious in this place. I would like to thank you and Sir George for chairing the Committee, and the Clerks for their hard work in making sure that everything we have done has been in order—even this point of order. I also thank all Members for participating. We have had some robust and healthy debates, and I look forward to taking them forward in the main Chamber.
Further to that point of order, Sir Gary. I associate myself with the comments made by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and thank the Clerks and the Government’s civil servants for the hard work that they have done. I realise that it has been a bit of mauling from this side of the House, but it was never, ever intended to be personal; it is purely political.
I thank you, Sir Gary, and Sir George, who guided us through the first two days of our proceedings. I am delighted to thank colleagues on both sides of the Chamber for the usually constructive, respectful and informed discussions that we have had over the past few days. I put on the record my sincere thanks, and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes, to Emilie-Louise Purdie, who did so much work behind the scenes so that my hon. Friend and I occasionally knew what we were talking about.
Further to that point of order, Sir Gary—spurious or otherwise. I thank the Committee for being so indulgent of me, as I have come in on this final day. It has been a robust but extremely good-humoured Committee, which has managed—under your excellent chairmanship, Sir Gary—to move with expedition through the Order Paper in front of us. I thank the Clerks for their support for all that we have done, and my civil servants in BEIS. If the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute had trouble with his colleague being brought up to speed, I can assure him that BEIS civil servants had an even harder task at bringing me up to speed. Members will be the judge of whether they managed that very well, but they put in a great deal of effort. Finally, I thank the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and I congratulate him on his birthday last week and on the fact that he brought in his 50th birthday cake—it is just a shame I did not get a slice.