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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 25th April 2018.

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Photo of Lord Lisvane Lord Lisvane Crossbench 4:15 pm, 25th April 2018

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate—especially for their concision and brevity. I am in a position to help the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, as I apprehended that his concern was that if the amendment were agreed, Clause 7(1) would be without a subject. But that subsection begins with the words:

“A Minister of the Crown”— so it is quite clear who will be exercising the powers.

I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and I hope that the difference of opinion which still remains between us is a demonstration that two reasonable people can disagree without either one being unreasonable.

I also listened very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, who had the great courtesy to mention her concerns to me earlier. It seemed to me that her particular concern was the matter of discretion and the amount of time that would be required to make orders. I respectfully suggest that neither “appropriate” nor “necessary” will have an impact on time. There will be a great deal of pressure to produce the delegated legislation in the time required, but I do not believe that whether the word is “appropriate” or “necessary” will impact on that. In terms of ministerial discretion, there is still of course a substantial amount of discretion to be given to Ministers. The debate we are having is about the degree of constraint that there should be on that discretion.

The suggestion I made in moving the amendment, which the Minister was kind enough to recall, was reflected in the Delegated Powers Committee’s 20th report: namely, that some form of sensible definition, or at least the parameters of what could be done without going beyond the bounds of “necessary”, would be of great help to Ministers. If we are talking about avoiding legal uncertainty—and here I was most grateful for the intervention of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, from his extensive professional experience—I do not think that adopting “necessary” would be necessarily an obstacle.

The Minister played the bowling in a very determined way, but the wicket has worsened substantially since Committee. He actually used the phrase about a course of action being “most sensible”—which seems to me to be at the heart of this. If one has some sort of expanded indication of what “necessary” can encompass, that seems to me to be exactly what is required. Nobody wants to stop Ministers doing things that are sensible—certainly I do not—but let us at least have them doing them on a canvas whose bounds are reasonably clear.

When he got on to “torturing” the English language, I felt that that really was a little hyperbolic. You do not torture a concept simply by telling people how you would like it interpreted. That seems again to me to be at the heart of the amendment.

The Minister’s Ofcom example was new material and very helpful, but it started to get into the area of whether there could be more than one solution to “necessary”—and, of course, there can, because, if there is a deficiency, there is not a single solution that is going to assuage that deficiency. There may be several of equal merit, and when they assuage that deficiency they demonstrate their necessity. So I did not really think that that was a particularly compelling example.

Of course, if we are to expect that significant policy changes will be made, the right route for making those changes is primary legislation, and there will be—as with a certain sense of foreboding we are well aware—a number of vehicles for such provision.

So I think that the Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that, despite a dogged defence of his wicket, I shall ask noble Lords to indicate their views, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 349, Noes 221.