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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 8th May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Lisvane Lord Lisvane Crossbench 8:00 pm, 8th May 2018

My Lords, I can be brief because the arguments on a Westminster sifting mechanism were deployed in Committee.

Amendment 70 continues the theme of constraints which should be imposed by Parliament on powers delegated to Ministers. For many of the sweeping regulation-making powers, the Government would have a choice under the Bill as to whether the affirmative or negative procedure is to be used. So, as the Bill stands, the scrutinised are to choose the level of scrutiny to which they are subject. This cannot be right. The sifting provisions now in the Bill are better than nothing, but not much, because it is the very making of a recommendation by a sifting committee that brings into play the Minister’s power to ignore the committee and to choose the negative procedure over the affirmative.

Two very red herrings—if I might call them that—entered into the debate in Committee. One was that because there are sifting mechanisms with teeth in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, the Public Bodies Act 2011 and the Localism Act 2011, and those Acts provide for the super-affirmative procedure, this would somehow introduce the super-affirmative procedure into this Bill. It would not and I agree with the Government that, given the time constraints, super-affirmative would not be appropriate. That is why this amendment does not provide for it.

The second red herring was that allowing one or other House to override the decision of a committee could undermine confidence not only in the sifting committee itself but in the whole committee structure. I have had a bit to do with Select Committees of both Houses over the past 45 years and I find this argument truly bizarre. A Select Committee is subordinate to the House that creates it. Select Committee recommendations are often ignored or rejected, usually at the instigation of the Government of the day. No plaster falls from the ceiling; committees do not go into an irreversible sulk; it is a perfectly normal feature of parliamentary life.

The Leader of the House said she hoped that occasions when the Government did not agree with a sifting committee’s recommendation would be “very rare”—even rarer if both committees made the same recommendation. If that is to be the case, what damage is done by putting the onus on the Government to reverse the decision in one House or the other, rather than giving Ministers carte blanche?

I make no apology for repeating my final point—that we will see a flock of exit Bills over the next few months. There will be a strong temptation for the Government to use this Bill as a precedent for ministerial powers in the others. This is one such power that I suggest should not be replicated. I beg to move.