Peers defy UK Government to press demand for safeguards on push to scrap EU laws
Defiant peers have maintained their stand-off with the UK Government in pressing a demand for safeguards over post-Brexit plans to ditch EU laws.
The House of Lords again backed by 244 votes to 190, majority 54, a measure to ensure ministerial powers to revoke, replace or update retained rules from Brussels do not undermine current environmental protections.
It comes after the Government overturned a series of changes made to the peers to the Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation) Bill in the Commons.
The latest defeat in the unelected chamber on the “non-regression” environment provision means a continuation of parliamentary ping-pong where the draft legislation passes between the two Houses.
Proposing the change, Oxford University scientist Lord Krebs said: “This is about the longer term. Even though present ministers may be committed to not diluting the environmental standards, how do we know what future administrations might decide to do?”
He added: “There is an undisputable case for adding a clause to this Bill that would help to ensure that future changes to retained EU law don’t further harm our already badly damaged natural environment.”
The independent crossbencher told peers: “It’s not about fossilising existing regulations. It’s about allowing change and improvements as long as they don’t dilute environmental protection and made with the consultation and advice of experts and that advice is published.
“I would not like to be the one who goes home to explain to my children and grandchildren that I stood up and voted against protecting our environment.”
Responding, Government minister Lord Callanan said: “We recognise the importance of maintaining our environmental standards but the Government does not believe this amendment to be necessary.
“The UK is a world leader in environmental protection and we will continue to uphold our environmental protections.”
The Tory frontbencher added: “We are committed to our environmental protections. Nothing in this Bill changes that commitment. We have substantive concerns that this amendment in the way it is worded actually makes it more difficult to uphold those environmental commitments.”
A short time later, the Government suffered a further defeat with peers demanding by 257 votes to 182, majority 75, increased parliamentary oversight of the retained EU legislation earmarked for the scrap heap.
Throughout the passage of the Bill through the Lords, concerns have been raised over the power it handed to ministers.
The change backed by the upper chamber would require EU laws facing the chop to be sifted by a Commons committee, which could then trigger a debate and vote in both Houses of Parliament if deemed necessary.
Critically, it would also allow amendments to the proposed regulations, which is not usually permitted to so-called secondary legislation.
Proposing the measure, leading lawyer Lord Anderson of Ipswich argued the Bill involved “no ordinary regulations concerned only with matters of detail”.
“They include major instruments of policy,” he said.
The independent crossbencher added: “The amendment contains an exceptional power but designed for exceptional circumstances.”
Supporting the change, Liberal Democrat Lord Fox said: “What it does is bring Parliament back into the frame.”
Too much power
Labour frontbencher Baroness Chapman of Darlington said: “We have been concerned since this Bill was first published that it gives ministers far too much power without reference to Parliament.”
But Lord Callanan argued the amendment was “entirely inappropriate”.
He said: “This Bill is vital. Now we have taken back control of our statute book it is essential to update and modernise by amending, repealing or replacing those rules and regulations that are no longer fit or were never fit for the UK.
“This will allow us to create a new pro-growth, high-standards regulatory framework that will give businesses the confidence to innovate, to invest and to create jobs.”
He added: “This novel scrutiny procedure proposed we do believe is unnecessary.
“Parliament will have strong provisions to scrutinise any legislation that is brought forward under this Bill. In the Government’s view the appropriate balance between the need for scrutiny and the need for reform has been struck.”
The Bill will now return to the Commons, for MPs to consider the latest changes made.
The legislation has already been watered down by the Government after it abandoned a planned “sunset” clause to scrap all laws carried over from the trade bloc by the end of 2023.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced criticism from the right of his party after it was announced that around 600 laws would be revoked by the end of the year, rather than the 4,000 previously pledged.
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