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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (7th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 14th March 2018.

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Photo of Lord Lisvane Lord Lisvane Crossbench 5:00 pm, 14th March 2018

My Lords, I must convey to the Committee the sincere apologies of my noble and learned friend Lord Judge, who has a long-standing and unbreakable engagement outside the House and who has asked me to move Amendment 153 on his behalf. I will also speak to Amendment 154 in my name.

Both the Constitution Committee, in its ninth report, and the Delegated Powers Committee, in its 12th report, expressed grave doubts about the breadth of the powers contained in Clause 9. They also suggest—as has been touched on by a number of noble Lords in the previous debate—that, as a further Bill is required by the amended Clause 9(1), Clause 9 as a whole is unnecessary, as any regulation-making powers can be included in the Bill that is now contemplated by Clause 9(1). That is a persuasive case, and perhaps it would indeed be better—despite what the Minister said in reply to the previous debate—if Clause 9 were in effect to be deferred to that later Bill.

However, whether it is here or whether it is there, the real mischief at the heart of Clause 9 needs to be cured. Clause 9(2) is a whacking great Henry VIII power, allowing Ministers to make in regulations any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament—something of which my noble and learned friend Lord Judge has been such a trenchant critic. In a piece of legislative pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, it would also allow Ministers to modify the Act which will result from this Bill itself.

The rather measured phrases—“make any provision” and “modifying”—should not mask the extent of the powers. Clause 9(2) would allow Ministers to make regulations that would amend or repeal any Act of Parliament whenever passed. And the power relating to the Act resulting from this Bill would allow Ministers to amend or even repeal it, setting at naught a number of weary hours that your Lordships have spent on this text.

The Delegated Powers Committee set out some ways in which Ministers would be empowered to use SIs, among other things to,

“alter the scope of ‘retained EU law’ so that … it includes EU legislation passed after exit day”,

to keep the supremacy of EU law for certain purposes, with the supervision of the ECJ, or to change the whole basis of the regulation-making powers elsewhere in the Bill so that “necessary or appropriate”—the subject of our argument last Wednesday—would become irrelevant, and the powers could be used for major policy change without restriction.

The Minister rightly said in reply to the previous debate that these powers would have to be used in the terms in which Clause 9 is framed, so they would be about provision relating to the withdrawal. Of course, a parliamentary vote on the withdrawal deal would, or could, in effect be a constraining factor. But the extent of that constraint is wholly dependent on another factor, which is how much detail is contained in whatever document or test becomes the subject of that meaningful vote.

The power could also be used to remove the Bill’s time limits on the regulation-making power, which at the moment provide at least some reassurance. As with other delegated powers, Ministers have sought to say as the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, did in reply to the previous debate. He gave a number of examples—not frightening or alarming ones—of the way in which the powers could be used. I do not for a moment question the good faith in which Ministers give us these examples, but once again one has to emphasise that what matters is what is in the Act. If current Ministers do not use those powers in the ways authorised by the Act, other Ministers may do so.

The Constitution Committee concluded that giving Ministers the powers in Clause 9(2) would require “the strongest of justifications”. The Delegated Powers Committee went further, calling the power, despite its exercise being subject to the affirmative procedure, “wholly unacceptable”.

I have never felt that Henry VIII is an entirely welcome dinner guest—if I may put it like that. But his presence can be made just about tolerable by observing what I would like to call the rule of the three “S”s. The first “S” is scope: the exercise of such a power must be subject to tight constraints. Merely what might be thought “appropriate”—we are back to that again—for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement does not qualify. The second “S” is scrutiny. Even though the affirmative procedure will apply to Clause 9(2) regulations by virtue of paragraph 7(1) of Schedule 7, the opportunities for effective scrutiny are likely to be limited, and the luxury of time for that scrutiny is unlikely to be available. The third “S” to bear in mind when his majesty comes to dinner is sunset. It would generally be better if Henry VIII powers were not on the statute book, but if they are, they should not linger there. Clause 9 provides that,

“No regulations may be made under this section after exit day”.

But as Ministers would have the power to alter exit day, this does not really give the reassurance it suggests. In my submission, therefore, Clause 9 fails those three tests of scope, scrutiny and sunset. It needs major surgery. I beg to move.