Retained EU Law Bill: Bishop of Leeds speaks on parliamentary sovereignity

The Bishop of Leeds spoke briefly during a debate on the Retained EU Law Bill on 23rd February 2023, highlighting the need for clear definitions of governmental and parliamentary sovereignty:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, the reason these amendments and this debate are important is that one always explores the general by probing the specific to see if it holds water. I wonder if, in that respect, it might be helpful for the Minister and the Committee if he defined in his response parliamentary sovereignty as against executive sovereignty. If we understood that more clearly, we would understand the status and the rationale behind what is proposed in this Bill, which I personally see as unnecessary.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, this has been a very important and fascinating debate. I open by echoing the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. This is Committee stage and we are probing what the Government intend. How do we better understand what they intend? The reason we have put these amendments down, particularly Amendment 40, is that we will not fully understand their intentions unless we understand their belief on the specifics. If we are to believe the noble Lord, Lord Frost, this is simply a technical exercise—one that the Government will decide with very little input from Parliament.

I have said this in other debates on other Bills: we had two excellent Select Committee reports from this House, with cross-party support, that made it clear that this is not the way to do things. They also made clear the dangers of the Executive having full power over secondary legislation, and why secondary legislation was so different. We cannot amend or change it; we either accept or reject it. If we reject it, what are the consequences? We lose the very rights we are trying to defend. So this is not even an opportunity to say that we do not like what the Government are doing. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, that there should be a better way. I accept that my probing amendments would not necessarily improve the Bill as constructed; it is extremely difficult to see how one can improve this Bill because it is so undemocratic, so wrong and takes powers away from Parliament rather than giving them to it.

I know this has been a lengthy debate, but to pick up the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Fox, it is important that this Parliament talks about what these regulations mean to people. It is very easy to talk about laws and SIs and regulations, especially when some of the language can be very technical. It is very difficult to persuade people why this debate is so important. That is why I come back to the right reverend Prelate’s point: we have to test the specifics.

On many occasions in this Chamber, I have supported my noble friend Lord Woodley in raising what is a really good specific point concerning TUPE. We often talk about TUPE as if everyone understands what it means: the transfer of undertakings and the protection of employment. Many years ago, I am afraid to confess, I was a trade union official too. Many people here who were in local government in the 1980s will have seen the push for contracting out and the insecurity that meant: cutting wages and cutting services. These regulations do not necessarily offer complete protection but they create greater certainty, particularly when services are moved from one employer to another within, for example, local government. Real people have been protected by that regulation.

I hope that, if the Minister cannot tell today’s Committee what the impact will be, he can tell us how many people he thinks have been protected by TUPE over the last 12 months, or the last five years? He cannot dismiss this and say it is a technical exercise and that some of these regulations require modernisation and reform. What requires that TUPE be reformed? What additional protections will there be? We are talking about additional protections because, as my noble friend Lady O’Grady said, we have had commitments from this Government that there will be no reduction in workers’ rights. So, let us focus on TUPE. What will they do, in terms of this review, to enhance those regulations? Will they enhance them? Where do they need modernisation? Where does the language need to be changed? Will the Minister please answer because, as we proceed through this Bill, it is those specifics, as the right reverend Prelate said, that people outside this Parliament need better to understand.

Lord Fox (LD): My Lords, I am assuming the Minister has now sat down. He touched on the interpretive effects that I raised in the set of amendments, but I do not think the answer was as full as we need. I think there will be other opportunities for the Minister to come back, and I will certainly press them. In the end, my assumption is that it will be up to the courts to decide which cases are in and which are out; it will be up to the courts and the lawyers who are pressing the courts to reinterpret or allow interpretations to continue. We need to know from the Government what is their assessment of the effect of that on this body of law and others across the spectrum we are discussing.

All Governments have to make choices, and the day-to-day push and pull of government can throw up many difficult dilemmas and severely stretch the national bandwidth for decision-making, but with this Bill, the Government are giving themselves 4,000 more choices they did not need to make. In opting to make these choices alone, without debate, discussion or consensus, each of these choices is bound to become a battleground, and each will be down to a Secretary of State—decisions that will call down attention from every corner of civil, legal, commercial and social society. So good luck with that, Minister.

The first amendment in the group illustrates some of the places where these battles will be fought across the country. No matter how close to their chest the Government play this, the arguments will not go away; indeed, the more secrecy and circumspection, the more suspicion will rise. The right reverend Prelate spoke about using the specifics to test the general, and this was an opportunity for the Minister to be more specific so that we could judge the general better. I do not think he has yet achieved that; however, we have six groups in very much in the same vein, so perhaps the Minister can work on his performance. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

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