Wholesale canning of EU Laws could spell danger for construction industry
The scrapping of EU laws must be balanced with proper checks and balances.
Much has been said in the six months that has passed since the introduction of the draft Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (introduced in September 2022) about the potential detrimental impact that the Bill could have on key economic drivers such as construction.
To ensure that the built environment has a voice around the issue, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has started a campaign to raise awareness and voice serious concerns to government on its approach to wholesale slashing of existing EU law.
There are clear calls from across a variety of industries for government to have a serious rethink about the approach to this Bill. While we understand this is an exercise that was always intended to take place, the consequences of leaving gaping holes in the legal system could be detrimental.
By way of an example, our industry has come together to usher in a new era of building safety for users and constructors of the built environment in recent years. This has included rules to ensure that the health and safety of workers on site is maintained. One of the laws due to be decided on is the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015). Laws like this, that enshrine the safety of workers on construction sites, should not be viewed lightly or scrapped purely because of its EU designation. We hold serious concerns that should significant changes be made to some laws, without formal consultation with experts, industries could be left without robust regulation and the health and safety of workers and users will be left compromised.
CIOB has the ability to pull from a wealth of members working across numerous sectors in the built environment to create a collaborative group of industry experts to provide government with an ‘on the ground’ perspective for how laws such as CDM 2015 have changed the working life of construction professionals for the better.
Government must listen to the views of safety groups and professional bodies who are worried about the adverse impact of the Bill in its current form and take the time to engage with key industries. Clear lines of communication between government, professional bodies and trade associations must be established so that crucial information can be disseminated amongst our members to lessen the impact of any legal ‘stop-gap’ that could be created if new laws are not put in place prior to the date that all EU laws no longer applies to the UK.
Retained EU Law
As background, the Bill has been introduced to end the supremacy of any EU-led laws that were put in place during the transition period post-Brexit.
The draft bill would provide a legal basis to introduce mechanisms to amend, revoke, reform or retain any remaining laws and put in place UK specific laws to supersede these by a stated date (currently set as 31 December 2023).
In terms of the raw data, the actual number of laws that will need to be reviewed is unclear. When the Government initially published the figure, it sat at around 2,700 pieces of REUL. This caused much confusion as calculations from other organisations, like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), had a figure closer to 4,000. Since then, the official estimation has been revised upwards to 3,700 with the strong caveat that this number will need to be reviewed quarterly as more laws are discovered. Off the bat this is extremely concerning as, at present, there are around 21 sectors in the UK economy, across 300 policy areas that will be affected by the Bill. This alone seems a sensible reason to delay its implementation until a full and comprehensive review is complete.
Overall, CIOB is not averse to the principle of the Bill. There may be many examples where ending the red tape set by the EU would provide a benefit to industries across the UK, or where existing or amended UK laws are better at providing a safer built environment, such as the Building Safety Act 2022. However, where we are concerned is with the lack of checks and balances that could be created by passing this Bill into law.
The Bill will downgrade REUL so that it can be amended by secondary legislation, which is not subject to the same level of parliamentary scrutiny as primary legislation in that it will not have to go through an amendment process in either the House of Commons or House of Lords.
There are very real concerns with this process as this will enable the Government to change crucial laws relating to employment and other areas without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Creating this precedent now could lead to worrying implications for industries further down the line.
While we understand that, at present, the new building safety regulations put in place by the Building Safety Act 2022 to protect residents of high-risk buildings from historic building mistakes and undue remediation costs, will not be subject to review. We are concerned that similar powers to revoke or remove law without proper scrutiny could be used as a tool to slash regulations that are perceived to add ‘red tape’ to the building process in the future. It would be beneficial for government to offer a guarantee that these powers to “sunset” law without due process are not available for use beyond the scope of this Bill.
Another key concern we have is the proposed timescale that this exercise will need to be completed in. Currently, the estimated ‘sunsetting’ date of 31 December 2023 only provides the Government with a short period of time to assess complex law. Tony Danker, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) had called for the Government to rethink the speed in which the Bill is being passed, stating that ending all REUL by the end of 2023 is creating huge uncertainty for UK firms and the rush will end in mass confusion and disruption.
CIOB is currently acting to bring together a conglomerate of built environment bodies to speak with one voice to government, highlighting the need to review all of the issues raised above. In doing this we have submitted a joint letter to the Secretary of State seeking further clarity on Government’s position and a guarantee or assurance that mechanisms which place great power in the hands of minsters without checks and balances only remain in place until the stated process in complete. We as an industry need to push back to ensure that the progress that has been made on stating real discourse on a better quality of building and environment is not undone for the sake of an election pledge.
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