Clause 12 - Power to restate retained EU law

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 24 Tachwedd 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Llafur, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 8 and 9.

Amendment 54, in clause 12, page 15, line 13, leave out subsection (7).

Clause stand part.

Government amendments 10 to 13.

Clause 13 stand part.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I will speak to amendments 53 and 54 on behalf of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes. Members will be aware that clause 12 is about the mechanism that will allow UK Government Ministers, or Ministers in the devolved Administrations, to restate or protect current retained EU law so that it does not fall away automatically at the end of 2023.

Thanks to the insidious Internal Market Act 2020, there is, as with so much of this Bill, huge confusion about which areas are devolved and which areas remained reserved. That problem was recognised by Charles Whitmore from the school of law and politics at Cardiff University when he gave evidence. He highlighted the issues surrounding restatement powers, particularly for the devolved Governments, taking into account the role of the Internal Market Act. He told the Committee:

“If you start thinking about the different uses that might be made of the restatement powers, and which parts of the UK might take different approaches to supremacy and the general principles, the level of uncertainty really does start to get quite extreme.”––[Official Report, Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Public Bill Committee, 8 November 2022; c. 85, Q141.]

Of course, Mr Whitmore was absolutely right to make that assessment, but it is just one of multiple problems with the clause, because it allows Ministers the freedom to decide exactly how much EU law they want to restate or protect. It lets the Government view the existing statute book as something of a smörgåsbord, whereby they can pick and choose which parts of the law they wish to keep and which parts, simply by their inaction, they will allow to disappear in December next year. For example, they could brazenly announce that they have decided to protect workers’ rights by restating them, when in reality they will have saved only the bare minimum of regulations—the ones that suit them, rather than the whole suite of laws that combine together to provide what we currently understand to be workers’ rights.

Another huge problem with the clause—indeed, it is a problem that runs throughout the Bill like the writing through a stick of rock—is that it has yet another one of those self-imposed, utterly unachievable and ideologically driven sunset clauses. It is no surprise that the clause has been criticised by the Law Society of Scotland’s Michael Clancy, who warned in his evidence to the Committee that there was a real danger that the restatement provisions contained in the clause could create further uncertainty. He said:

“There is also a lack of clarity about what comes afterwards.  It will be difficult for citizens and businesses to deal with even the provisions about replacement, restatement and the creation of the new category of assimilated law in a short—apparently very compressed—period of time, and without the adequate consultation that one would expect when this sort of law is changed.”––[Official Report, Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Public Bill Committee, 8 November 2022; c. 84, Q141.]

Clause 12(3) declares that should a piece of legislation be restated and an extension be granted beyond December 2023, the legislation cannot be regarded as retained EU law. That appears particularly petty, if not vindicative, and it reflects the almost irrational hatred and loathing of anything connected to the European Union, however loosely. Our amendment 53 would remove subsection (3), meaning that the retained EU laws that the UK, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish Governments wish to restate will still be what they are: retained EU law.

Amendment 54 would remove the arbitrary deadline of 31 December 2023 proposed in subsection (7). As we have heard numerous times, that impossibly tight deadline is only there for narrow ideological reasons and is a disaster waiting to happen. Amendment 54 would remove the dangerous cliff edge by deleting subsection (7) entirely.

As we have said throughout, we will help to improve the Bill, which is a truly awful piece of legislation, wherever we can, and that is what amendments 53 and 54 are designed to do. We want to make the Bill a little less damaging to the statute book and, more importantly, to those whose lives and livelihoods depend on there being robust law and regulation in place.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The overarching aim of the Bill is to define retained EU law as a legal category, and the power to restate such law must be viewed with that in mind. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute said that he wants to help the process, even though he is fundamentally trying to block it. The power to restate has been designed to allow the Government to restate domestic law where it is considered appropriate for the UK in a post-Brexit setting. However, the resulting legislation will no longer be retained EU law, as subsection (3) makes clear. The restated legislation will be ordinary domestic UK legislation that is subject to traditional domestic rules of interpretation. In particular, the supremacy of EU law will no longer apply, and section 4 rights and the general principles of EU law will cease to be read into the legislation.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

If I can make a bit of progress, I will give way later.

The power will enable the Government to clarify, consolidate, codify and restate REUL to preserve the effect of the current law, while removing it from the category of REUL. It will be used selectively and is not a way to simply continue the broad concepts of EU law. Retained EU law was never intended to sit on the statute book indefinitely, although I believe that hon. Members wish it did. It is both constitutionally anomalous and politically challenging. Subsection (3) is therefore a crucial part of clause 12, and is necessary to ensure that the Government can deliver on the overarching aims of the Bill.

Let me turn to amendment 54. The power in this clause will expire at the end of 2023, with good reason. The Bill will sunset the majority of retained EU law, so that it expires on 31 December 2023. Following that date, all retained EU law will have either sunsetted or been preserved and assimilated into the domestic statute book. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the power to restate REUL should expire at the same time as the sunset of retained EU law. Following that date, there will no longer be any secondary REUL for this power to operate on. The power in this clause will give way to the power outlined in clause 13, which will allow for the similar restatement of assimilated law up until 23 June 2026.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary) 3:00, 24 Tachwedd 2022

Can the Minister explain the difference between restating and amending? At what point does a restatement of a piece of legislation become either an amendment or a completely new piece of legislation? Who will be the arbiter of that? Will the courts decide?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I did not hear the end of that question, but each Department will be in charge of the Bills in its portfolio. We have the Brexit opportunities department helping as well. I have already mentioned the processes in place to ensure that scrutiny happens, and how Ministers will work to ensure that we assimilate, amend or update.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

I am sorry if the Minister did not understand my question. I am talking not about the political, democratic scrutiny, but about the legal interpretation of restated legislation, which will fall to the courts. My question is: who decides whether what has been done under clause 12 is simply a restatement of EU retained law or an amendment to law, which requires a different process?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I hope I am not failing to understand the question. As I mentioned, each of the REUL Bills is assigned to a Department, and it will be for the Ministers responsible for the REUL Bill to make a decision on whether they need to assimilate, repeal or update.

I ask the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute to withdraw his amendment. I ask the Committee to accept the Government amendments. They are simple clarificatory amendments that ensure that the restatement powers in clauses 12 to 14 cannot be used to bring back EU law concepts, such as the principle of supremacy, or general principles that the Bill aims to sunset.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The Minister is right. As we have said from day one, we oppose the Bill, but if it has to pass—history and the numbers in the room tell us that it will pass—it will do so without our support. As we have said, we have a duty not to ignore the most egregious parts of this legislation. Where we think that it will hurt people, affect businesses or leave holes in the statute book, or is ideologically driven folly, we will oppose it, and point out the problems to the Government, so that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes said, there cannot come a time when the Government say, “We didn’t know. Nobody told us this was happening.” Our role here is to oppose every step of the way, but also point out in as much detail and with as much clarity as we can where this dreadful piece of legislation is almost inevitably headed. We will pick the matter up, I am sure, on Report, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: 8, in clause 12, page 15, line 2, leave out “legislation” and insert “the thing”.

This amendment provides that effects produced by virtue of the retained EU law referred to in subsection (5) do not apply in relation to anything that is codified.

Amendment 9, in clause 12, page 15, line 10, leave out “of legislation”.—(Ms Ghani.)

This amendment enables regulations to produce, in relation to anything that is codified, an effect equivalent to an effect mentioned in subsection (4).

Clause 12, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.