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Lords Committees condemn EU Retained Law Bill as a ministerial power grab

Friday 3 February 2023

This is the conclusion of a pair of hard-hitting reports from two cross-party House of Lords Select Committees tasked with scrutinising primary and secondary legislation. The critical reports have been published in advance of the 6 February debate in the House on the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (the REUL Bill).

The reports are from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) entitled Losing Control? The Implications for Parliament of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and the 25th Report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee (DPRRC).

The SLSC report warns that the REUL Bill “would lead to a significant shift of power not to Parliament but to ministers” and raises concerns that the sunset clauses in the REUL Bill could see considerable swathes of retained EU law automatically expire at the end of 2023. The report argues for strengthened scrutiny procedures to enable Parliament to have a say on how the powers under the REUL Bill are used.

The DPRRC report describes the REUL Bill as entirely “lacking in substance” and concludes it is, in effect, “all powers, no policy”. It is a mechanism that means “Ministers, not Parliament will be responsible for determining what stays, what goes, and what, if anything, is to replace what goes.” The Committee also notes that, in giving ministers such extraordinary powers, it is at odds with the position taken by successive governments since the EU referendum in 2016 that it would be for Parliament, through primary legislation, to decide what should happen to retained EU law. The Committee concludes that, of the six most important provisions in the REUL Bill which delegate powers to ministers, five should be removed altogether.

The criticisms of the two Committees about the REUL Bill reflect the findings of their earlier reports – Government by Diktat: A call to return power to Parliament (SLSC) and Democracy Denied? The urgent need to rebalance power between Parliament and the Executive (DPRRC) that for some time now power has been shifting from Parliament to the executive and resetting the balance of power to reassert parliamentary control is an urgent necessity.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, former Chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, said;

“The Committee has taken the unprecedented step of reporting on a Bill, as opposed to the secondary legislation made under a Bill, because we believe that the REUL Bill – if enacted in its current form – would represent a significant deterioration in the capacity of Parliament to call the Government to account and to influence how retained EU law will be amended, restated or replaced.

“The REUL Bill would give ministers immense powers to shape the law governing every aspect of our daily lives, with Parliament having little opportunity to have a say. It is imperative to stress that this report is not about criticising or commenting on Brexit, but focuses instead on the further shift in balance between Parliament and the executive which we highlighted in our earlier report ‘Government by Diktat' and the urgent need to reset that balance.”

Lord Hunt of Wirral, Chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, said:

“The combination of the cliff-edge sunset provision in clause 1 and the extraordinary amount of secondary legislation that may result from the exercise of the powers contained in the REUL Bill will be challenging for Parliament and for the Committee, and for those many people who are likely to be affected by the new laws.

“We will look to the Government to make every effort to support Parliament in its scrutiny work and to ensure that those affected are consulted and kept fully informed.”

Lord McLoughlin, Chair of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, said:

“In our report 'Democracy Denied?' we deprecated the use of skeleton bills. We therefore find it regrettable that the Government have introduced a Bill which is so lacking in substance that it cannot even be described as skeletal.

“In our report on the REUL Bill we have recommended that, of the six most important provisions containing delegated powers, five should be removed from the Bill altogether. We believe that the shortcomings of this hyper-skeletal bill justify our approach.”

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