News / Good Trade Campaign

800 to 1,000 laws to be amended, with or without parliamentary scrutiny

Brexit Minister Steven Baker estimates that 800 to 1,000 EU-exit related laws will need to be amended; the Hansard Society warns that this could take place without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Steven Baker confirmed today (29/06/2017) that between an estimated 800 to 1,000 Statutory Instruments will be required to support the UK leaving the EU.

Many of these will be relevant to food, farming and fishing. Some may, for example, transfer monitoring and enforcement responsibilities from EU agencies to UK equivalents. Yet it seems likely that only a tiny proportion of changes will be debated in parliament. And very few - under current plans and parliamentary customs - are likely to be subjected to a transparent and accountable process of scrutiny.

Whilst this estimate remains subject to policy decisions and EU negotiations, the sheer volume of Statutory Instruments required confirms that MPs looking forward to the coming two-year Parliamentary session will experience the biggest legislative programme faced by any UK government. Parliamentary procedure specialists and public interest bodies are already raising questions about the speed and volume of the legislative programme, the possibility of mistakes being made, and the likely lack of democratic scrutiny over changes that could have major implications through the Brexit process and beyond.

The Hansard Society explains that "secondary legislation subject to the negative scrutiny procedure (the majority of this type of legislation) can only be debated if an MP ‘prays’ against it via an Early Day Motion" (EDM, an MP petition). Even then, whether it is debated lies in the hands of the Government of the day, not Parliament. The MP can request a debate, but the Government controls the parliamentary timetable, so must agree to grant the time for any debate. In the last parliamentary session, reports the Hansard Society, MPs debated just 3% of the 585 negative instruments laid before them. And although the Leader of the Opposition and his front bench colleagues tabled 12 'prayer' motions for a debate, just 5 were granted.

The Hansard Society also points out that the government itself may not understand this process, nor its inherent weaknesses. In the government's Great Repeal Bill White Paper, paragraph 3.21 states that under the negative procedure members of either House can ‘require’ a debate and if necessary a vote. In fact, they can only ‘request’ these, they cannot ‘require’ them. Indeed, some debates on secondary leglslation - such as happened in a previous Parliamentary session on Personal Independence Payments - have been delayed by Government so long that they become little more than symbolic.

Sustain is consulting with speciaists - including the Hansard Society and Unlock Democracy - to understand the implications of changes to secondary legislation with relevance to food, farming and fishing, as well as many of the issues represented by members of the Sustain alliance - not least: environment, animal welfare, consumer protection, workers' rights and social justice.

For further information about Delegated Legislation, see Hansard Society FAQs and read their useful briefings and publications and see Hansard Society director Dr Ruth Fox explaining Delegated Legislation on YouTube.

Published 29 Jun 2017

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