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Retained EU Law entering last chance saloon in House of Lords – now is the time to listen

By Peter McGettrick, British Safety Council Chairman

The Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill being debated in the House of Lords on Monday 6 February is a key moment for a piece of legislation which threatens to put our health, safety and the environment at greater risk.

Having passed the Commons, on some votes by the skin of its teeth, many will now be looking to the Lords to propose some meaningful improvements and changes, which I hope the Government will now listen to.

And if not, then maybe it will have the courtesy to pay attention to the many civic organisations, charities and businesses who have been sounding the alarm in recent weeks over the impact that this ill-conceived and, frankly dangerous, legislation will have.

The UK has built an excellent record for health and safety over many decades. So why would the Government want to trash this?

In 1974, this country passed the UK Health and Safety at Work Act. We have built on its broad principles in the years since with more detailed regulations, many of which were brought in after 1990 when we belonged to the EU.

Whether we now need, or want, to have this raft of EU-based regulations is the question posed by the Government’s REUL Bill.

This piece of legislation, if passed, would set a deadline using a ‘sunset’ clause, allowing all EU-derived regulations to be wiped from the statute book from that point, unless a Minister decides that they want to retain, amend, or replace them. As it stands, that deadline is 31 December 2023, with some leeway for one or two departments. The Bill also hands Ministers extraordinary general powers to remove regulations in the future.

Yes, there are areas of our current regulations where improvements could be made, but also big risks with the Government’s current approach.

No other country has ever gone about letting its laws just evaporate in this way. This Bill would effectively create a ‘black hole’ for businesses to have to navigate themselves.

Deaths at work continue to fall, as the latest HSE figures show, and big strides have been made in terms of worker health. Without a solid floor of regulations, my fear is the great reputation the UK has built as a leader in health and safety could slip away and our already weak productivity will suffer along with people’s health and wellbeing.

The government must rethink its approach and allow much more time for the process of reviewing the thousands of regulations at stake. It took five years for it to replace EU agricultural policy alone, so why does it think it can deal with the rest in just 12 months?

If it does not, I fear the chaos, confusion, and uncertainty it will create won’t just cast a very bad shadow over Brexit, it would cause real and unnecessary future harm.

About Sarah OBeirne

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