Committee stage: line by line check of EU (Withdrawal) Bill

29 March 2018

11 day committee stage, the chance for line by line examination, of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, in the House of Lords from 21 February to 28 March.

What happened? 

Day one: Wednesday 21 February

Members discussed the implications of exit day until midnight. Suggested changes debated covered:

  • the UK's membership of the single market and customs union
  • Parliament's role in setting the date and time of exit day
  • the role of the devolved administrations in repealing the European Communities Act 1972
  • nuclear safeguards and the UK remaining a member of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

Members sought to press the government on its position on these issues. No votes took place.

Day two: Monday 26 February

Members discussed suggested changes until 12.16am. They covered reciprocal health arrangements for UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, higher education research funding, student exchanges, security, criminal justice, the European Court of Justice and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Members sought assurances on the UK's participation in some programmes and initiatives, for example Erasmus+, and argued that in many cases the UK had led on setting up these projects. The government said that it could only commit to a stated desire to continue participation in some schemes but not that the UK actually would, as these are matters for the negotiations.

Committee stage debate on clause one lasted over 18 hours.

Day three: Wednesday 28 February

Members, including a QC involved in the Supreme Court Article 50 case and the Advocate-General for Scotland, continued to discuss suggested changes to the bill, including:

  • issues regarding transferring EU legislation into UK law as ‘retained EU law’
  • amendments aimed at ensuring that EU-derived rights such as consumer protection and employment law could not be removed or weakened
  • the distinctions between primary and secondary legislation and the implications for the way in which EU law will become UK law.

Several members talked about the importance of achieving legal certainty and clarity in the bill. 

Members also looked at a change aimed at maintaining levels of funding and support for UK regions. The government argued that this was not needed, given existing powers allowing for regional assistance.  

Day four: Monday 5 March

Members looked at a range of amendments. A change on family law was discussed, exploring ways in which rights and mechanisms currently delivered through EU law will continue to exist once they are replaced by UK law: several former senior judges expressed concern about a lack of detail in the bill.

Animal welfare was raised, and maintaining the same level of protection for animals as they currently have after Brexit. Members urged the government to improve clarity in the bill on this matter.

Complex issues around the future relationship between EU law and UK law, the treatment and influence of EU law after exit day and the future role of the Charter of Fundamental Rights received close attention. The impact of the removal of the Charter on gender equality was given particular scrutiny. The House rose at 12.48am on Tuesday.

Day five: Wednesday 7 March

A range of changes were discussed. Members from across the House spoke in support of creating a functioning legal system rather than using the transfer of powers into UK law to change policies. Ministerial powers to rectify problems and inconsistencies with legislation once it had been transferred into UK law were a key area of interest and a range of limits on those powers were proposed.

Complex issues around the powers of the European Court, the impact of the court's judgments and decisions after exit day were raised. Rights conferred on citizens by the UK's membership of the EU were in the spotlight, especially the ways in which those rights should be protected as EU law is transferred to UK law.

Members examined environmental protections and how to ensure they wouldn’t be weakened or removed. The principle of equality and ensuring that current protections from discrimination on grounds of race, sex, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation were discussed, with members keen to see existing rights transferred effectively.

Day six: Monday 12 March

Members discussed proposed changes relating to clause 7 (dealing with deficiencies arising from withdrawal) of the bill until 2.36am.

Peers examined clinical trials and maintaining alignment with European partners after Brexit. The use of secondary legislation to introduce or vary fees, charges and taxes was considered. Secondary legislation introducing new criminal offences also came under the spotlight. A lack of parliamentary scrutiny was raised as a concern in both areas.

Data protection and its impact on individuals and businesses was raised.

The powers of ministers to amend laws relating to the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were debated at length. Members were concerned that the bill might enable ministers to change the constitutional balance of powers between the UK government and the devolved administrations.

Border controls, costs and potential delays were highlighted, including the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as were a range of transport issues including air safety.

Additionally, maintaining regulatory alignment across the chemicals industry was discussed.

Day seven: Wednesday 14 March

Members discussed proposed changes until 11.33pm. Topics included UK-EU recognition of professional qualifications, consumer law and trading standards, engagement with EU agencies, a meaningful vote in the UK Parliament and the rights of young people.

Members discussed proposed changes on:

  • UK creative industries, broadcasting and potential problems caused by changes to freedom of movement and intellectual property law
  • food safety and maintaining current standards
  • guaranteeing a vote on the final Brexit agreement in the UK Parliament before a vote in the European Parliament
  • implications for making delegated legislation (regulations), including under this Act, the scope of ministers' power and how Parliament would check new regulations
  • the Common Travel Area, the Belfast Agreement and the Northern Ireland economy
  • future engagement with EU agencies including the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Investment Fund (EIF)
  • seeking a report from the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) between the end of negotiations and a vote in Parliament
  • the rights and opportunities of young people, especially to travel and study in other countries
  • maintaining EU regulations on refugee family reunion rights.

Day eight: Monday 19 March

Changes examined included women's rights and child maintenance, business insolvency, local government, medical devices, public health and nuclear research. Members worked through them until 1.17am.

The key changes attracting extensive debate related to a referendum on the terms of the deal. Members proposing the changes and others in favour of them argued that Parliament is sovereign and should be able to give the people the chance to decide on the final deal and whether the UK stays in the EU or not based on the deal.

They urged the government against presenting Parliament with a ‘take it or leave it’ vote: arguing that if Parliament judges the final deal and no deal are both bad options, then Parliament should have the option to provide for a referendum.

Other members responded that Parliament should deliver on carrying out what the people voted for in the 2016 referendum.

The government said voters instructed it to leave the EU and it was delivering on that. Members pressed the minister on Parliament's vote on the deal and what the government would do if Parliament rejected the deal it puts forward. The minister said the government is committed to getting a good deal but if Parliament rejected it, ‘that would be an instruction to move ahead without a deal’. Members said that Parliament should have the right to return the issue to the people and indicated they are likely to raise this again at report stage.

Day nine: Wednesday 21 March

Members discussed the role of secondary legislation and how it should be used in bringing EU law into UK statutes. Concern was expressed about protecting rights and the role of Parliament in scrutinising changes.

The issue of 'consequential powers' was raised, the ability for ministers to make significant changes to laws without parliamentary agreement and members argued that changes to the bill were needed. The distinction between 'appropriate' and 'necessary' powers was considered. The ability for government to define primary and secondary legislation was also discussed.

Members focused on the future of Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement and issues of human rights and identity in Northern Ireland. Members from across the House, many from Northern Ireland or who have worked in Northern Ireland politics, highlighted the importance of protecting the political and economic progress it had seen since the agreement. Members called for legislative certainty about how an open border could be achieved.

Members discussed devolution at length focusing on how powers that have been devolved from Westminster would be affected by the bill. A government amendment to place restrictions on Westminster's ability to exercise those powers was considered but some members said that restrictions did not go far enough.

Members discussed a proposal to set up a group of representatives from all parts of the UK to agree an approach to the way in which Brexit and devolution affect the 'single market' of the UK.

The session ended at 9.43pm with the withdrawal of the government amendment.

Day ten: Monday 26 March

Members discussed how retained EU law would be dealt with in the context of devolution, including 'sunset clauses' to time-limit the effect of new laws. It was suggested that devolving powers should be dealt with by primary legislation and that all currently devolved matters should be devolved on departure from the EU. Members also considered the issue of legislative consent from devolved governments and how disputes might be resolved.

Protecting the rights and interests of people in Gibraltar was considered including trade with the UK and the situation in Gibraltar during a transition period. The economy, tourism and freedom of movement were identified as areas of concern.

A fixed date for leaving the EU was raised. It was suggested that agreeing a date without sight of the withdrawal agreement would make parliamentary consideration meaningless and including a date in the bill was unnecessary. Members said the bill was about process, not outcome and removing a date would not alter the outcome of the bill.

Parliament's role in the event of no deal being reached was discussed, including a change to ensure that Parliament was consulted over the final terms of withdrawal. The role of secondary legislation in raising fees and charges was also considered. 

Day 11: Wednesday 28 March

Members looked at technical issues surrounding how EU law will be transferred into UK law and how EU law will be interpreted after exit. The balance of power between government and Parliament was raised again in this context. The way in which legislation will be published was also considered.

Financial support for the regions of the UK was discussed, focusing on how EU structural funding would be replaced after exit. An amendment to include financial undertakings in the bill was considered.
Continued EU citizenship after exit was discussed along with the status of the rights of UK citizens and concepts of associate citizenship.

Members discussed the way in which decisions of European courts will apply during a transition period and how legal certainty can be achieved.

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