Baroness Dianne Hayter speech to the House of Lords
I thank the Noble Lords the Minister for repeating the statement which introduces one part of three broad areas of scrutiny facing this House over the coming 18 months or so. The other elements are the array of primary legislation – anywhere between 7 and 15 Bills covering agriculture, customs, immigration etc, and associated SIs.
And, alongside this legislative work will be our scrutiny of the Government’s negotiations with the EU27, culminating in a vote in this House on the final deal.
Today’s foreshadowed Bill is, in one way, the easiest of the three, as it takes existing EU law and incorporate it into domestic law.
However, we’ve heard the Secretary of State for International Trade, arguing that ‘to restore Britain’s competitiveness we must begin by deregulating the labour market’. Whilst the Foreign Secretary wants to use the ‘opportunity’ to axe needless regulations that have ‘accreted since Britain joined the EU’.
How do these comments chime with the PM’s introduction to the White Paper – and, indeed, the Government’s longstanding promise – that “the same rules and laws will apply on the day after exit as on the day before”?
Will the NL the Minister confirm the Prime Minister is the boss, and that despite the words of others, there is no intention to follow their madcap ideas within the Repeal Bill?
Despite its aim of simply converting existing rules into UK law, the Bill will be – in the words of our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform committee – “a wholly exceptional piece of primary legislation” with implications for “the fundamental issue of the balance between the Executive and Parliament”.
We are pleased that the Secretary of State has confirmed that delegated powers introduced by the Bill will be subject to time limits, but a number of concerns remain. According to paragraph 3.21, the Government believes current statutory instrument procedures are sufficient for the task ahead. We have our doubts.
Will the NL the Minister give some serious consideration to the following recommendations:
- An explanatory memo published alongside each SI
- Early consultation with outside stakeholders
- The provision of “a comprehensive delegated powers memorandum” for Parliament when the Bill appears
- Provision of draft regulations, so that scrutiny can commence before the Bill is enacted, in view of the “sheer scale” and complexity of the SIs
- And, given that delegated legislation is unamendable, consideration of “a strengthened scrutiny procedure” to help ensure “that parliament retains some control” over the significant SIs, including some “triage” of the proposals.
The Lords committees do excellent work, but it is clear that some form of extra capacity will be needed if we are to scrutinise the vast array of SIs that are to come.
My Lords, many EU regulations are monitored or enforced by the Commission, Court of Justice or another EU body. The question, therefore, is how the Government will ensure that these regulations, once domesticated into UK law, will still be monitored and enforced. There is little point entrenching EU rights and protections in UK law if the Government does not also ensure that they are enforceable.
As converting the EU acquis into domestic law will have significant implications for the devolution settlements, which were premised on continued membership of the EU, can the NL the Minister tell the House about their plans for dealing with repatriation in areas of devolved competence, including London. In particular, can he provide assurance that consultation will improve?
Just yesterday, the First Minister in Wales confirmed he had not seen the Article 50 letter in advance and had not been invited to contribute to its drafting. He described this as “unacceptable” and “the culmination of a deeply frustrating process in which the Devolved Administrations have been persistently treated with a lack of respect.”
And today he has had to say again: “we are disappointed we were not given opportunity to contribute to its production (despite assurances that we would be)”. Is this the level of cooperation the Government thinks satisfactory?
My Lords, although lacking in certain respects, today’s White Paper does provide some much-needed clarity. Labour has been clear that our withdrawal from the EU must not lead to the reduction of workplace rights, environmental or consumer protections. These must be protected with no qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses.
The White Paper appears to accept this entirely and even sets out some welcome examples. But given comments by the Foreign and International Trade Secretaries, and the former Chairman of the Conservative Party, there are dangers ahead.
My Lords, if we are to do our job properly, we will need the resources and structures to deal with avalanche of SIs, a way of ensuring delegated powers are limited, used only when vital, and not misused.
The NL the Minister knows the House stands ready to do what’s needed, but will need rather more detail and assurance before we can be sure this Bill is fit for purpose. The Government stresses the importance of sovereignty. For us, this means parliamentary sovereignty and not an unacceptable power grab. We will be watching you!
Baroness Dianne Hayter is Shadow Brexit Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets at @HayeratLords
Published 30th March 2017