There was a busy day in the House of Lords, last week (6 Feb), for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, dubbed the ‘EU Bonfire Bill’, as it had its second reading.
This was the first opportunity for members of the Lords to debate the key principles and main purpose of a Bill that could threaten thousands of legislative areas ranging from occupational safety and health to construction and the environment, food safety standards to hazardous substance and chemical safety.
After clearing the House of Commons, last month, the Bill went to the upper chamber for further scrutiny and was introduced by Lord Callanan, then minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (he is now a minister at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero).
Lord Callanan said that the Bill would enable opportunities to create modern and agile regulation and develop growth. However, there has been strong criticism of the Bill which could see around 4,000 laws amended, revoked or replaced with limited parliamentary scrutiny by the sunset date of 31 December 2023. IOSH joined the OSH Alliance, a coalition of health and safety leaders, in calling for time and care to be taken to ensure the safety of lives and businesses as part of a proper consultation and transparent process to avoid any risk of “a race to the bottom (that would) strip away our people’s rights to a life free from serious accidental injury and ill-health.”
Former Conservative deputy prime minister and Brexit critic Lord Heseltine said in the House: “At a time of economic stress, when we need desperately to increase the levels of investment in our economy, what have they (the government) provided? A giant question mark for anyone seeking to know whether to spend a penny piece in the United Kingdom economy.”
Earlier, the former leader of the Trades Union Congress, Baroness O’Grady of Upper Holloway, making her first speech in the Lords as a Labour peer, had argued: “so many of the rights we rely on as workers were derived from the EU”, while another former TUC leader, Lord Monks, accused the government of producing “a blank cheque for themselves to obliterate most of the 40 years of UK membership of the EU.”
However, former chief Brexit negotiator and Conservative minister Lord Frost said: “These inherited EU laws have little real legitimacy now we have left the system that created them” and he referred to the Bill as being “part of the logic of Brexit.”
Former Conservative MP and Leave campaigner Lord Jackson of Peterborough claimed, “there is no evidence that the Bill will inevitably lead to a weakening of our own domestic legal rights and protections.”
The Bill will now go to committee stage for detailed examination and discussion of amendments before moving on to report stage for further scrutiny. A third reading will give peers a final chance to amend the Bill.