Lords defeat the Government on fundamental rights & enhanced scrutiny
Yesterday saw the first Government defeat in the Lords as peers accepted a cross-party amendment to restrict ministers from weakening fundamental protections like employment, equality rights and environmental standards. We urged peers to support this amendment in our briefing ahead of Report, and alliance members have played a crucial role in advocating for rights, protections and parliamentary scrutiny. Well done to peers from all parties, who refused to accept the Government handing itself unlimited powers that threaten our rights and standards. Here is a breakdown of the votes.
Baroness Hayter, shadow spokesperson in the Lords and lead signature of the amendment spoke on the importance of protecting rights post-Brexit:
“employment, equality, health and safety, consumer protection and the environment—have been safeguarded, or ring-fenced if you like, thanks to EU membership requirements. We now need to bubble-wrap those protections for what we bring into our law to safeguard them from meddling hands—because, without any protection, those standards could be weakened by secondary legislation. That could happen without consultation with stakeholders and even without a Bill going through Parliament, where MPs and Peers could interrogate the rationale, cost and benefit of any change”
From a constitutional point of view it was interesting to note that Lord Callanan said that even with the accepted amendment 11 from Baroness Hayter, the Government amendments on retained EU law tabled ahead of Report are not “mutually exclusive. I think the amendments can both stand”. Before the voting took place yesterday, the Public Law Project warned peers that the Government amendments lacks clarity. Baroness Hayter noted this issue and pointed out that “there are particular directives, such as the ambient air quality directive, the habitats directive and the working time directive, that are not covered by the government amendments”. On that basis, she tested the opinion of the House, who voted in favour of the amendment 314 to 217.
Again, thanks not only to peers who stood up for our fundamental rights but also to civil society groups who have worked tirelessly to make sure that such protections cannot be weakened by sweeping ministerial powers.
However it is not over by a long way. Monday sees Day 2 of Report stage and the all important votes on the Charter, maintenance of EU environmental principles and standards, and the thorny issue of the status of retained EU law. The possibility of more defeats being inflicted on the government is very likely - see below some key briefings explaining the issues at stake:
The Third Reading is confirmed for May 16th. So expect the bill back in the Commons in about 4 weeks time for ping-pong (the stage where MPs consider the amendments carried by the House of Lords). The real test for these amendments, and an improved bill, will be there.