Peers demand Westminster oversight over scaled-back EU law hitlist
The Government has suffered a defeat at the hands of peers demanding parliamentary scrutiny of the scaled-back list of EU laws to be ditched at the end of the year.
The House of Lords backed by 245 votes to 154, majority 91, a move that will require retained legislation earmarked for the scrap heap to be sifted by a joint committee at Westminster.
The group can then trigger a debate and vote in both Houses of Parliament if it is judged to pose “a significant change” to existing UK law.
It came as ministers moved to water down post-Brexit plans to ditch EU laws.
The administration had originally promised a “sunset” clause on all laws carried over from the trade bloc by the end of 2023 under its Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has faced criticism from the right of his party since it was announced that around 600 laws would be revoked under the legislation, rather than the 4,000 pledged.
Throughout the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords, concerns have been raised over the power it handed to ministers.
While critics welcomed the Government climbdown on the Bill, they stressed the need for oversight of the retained EU laws that were to be axed.
Independent crossbencher Lord Hope of Craighead, a former deputy president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, said: “There remains a very significant gap. There is no provision for parliamentary scrutiny in a proper sense of those words.
“It is the greatest of ironies that the taking back control of our laws, which is what Brexit is all about, has resulted in handing back this control to ministers and civil servants, and not to Parliament.”
He was supported by Brexit-backing Tory former minister Lord Hamilton of Epsom who argued Parliament should decide on retained EU laws rather than the civil service, which he likened to an “old banger in need of a serious MOT”.
The Conservative peer said: “We have passed from an unelected commission in the EU making our legislation to a system now where we have passed it over to the executive.”
Expressing the belief that Whitehall mandarins had more influence over the legislation than ministers, Lord Hamilton said: “The civil service used to be regarded as a Rolls Royce. I am not sure that definition would apply today. I think it looks rather like an old banger in need of a serious MOT.”
He added: “Are these the right people to pass over all this responsibility for EU law without Parliament having any say? The answer is, of course, no. Parliament has got to regain control of this process.”
Tory peer Lord Jackson of Peterborough said the Government’s concession was a “huge disappointment”.
The former special adviser to then-Brexit secretary David Davis said: “This has not been handled well by the Government.
“We are offered the mere scraps from the table with the new schedule, not so much a bonfire of regulations but a damp fizzing Catherine wheel.”
But Labour peer Baroness Andrews said: “The risk that has been removed is chaotic, accidental, fatal mistakes being made and not being able to be recovered.”
Introducing the Government changes to the Bill, Tory frontbencher Lord Callanan said: “We have listened to the concerns of this House.”
Referring to the revocation list, Lord Callanan said: “This will provide legal clarity and the certainty many called for.
“The schedule will allow us to remove legislation inherited from the EU that the UK no longer requires in an efficient and transparent way by the end of the year.”
He added: “Retained EU law not included on the schedule will still be stripped of EU interpretative effects after December 31, 2023 and therefore assimilated into domestic legislation.
“Consequently, nothing on our domestic statute book will be considered as retained EU law and the special status of retained EU law in the UK will come to an end.”
The amended Government provision, which rolled back the plans to scrap all retained EU law, was subsequently approved without a vote.
In a further setback to the Tory frontbench, peers backed by 222 votes to 154, majority 68, a move to give the Parliament and the devolved administrations the final say over whether retained EU rights and obligations should be ditched, rather than ministers.
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