Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 6:30 pm, 8th January 2019

I hope that my noble friend the Minister has listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on this matter. We are faced with a real difficulty here. We have agreed to many kinds of legislation, of which this is only one, to protect ourselves against the extraordinarily damaging situation whereby we leave the European Union without a deal. One of the dangers, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, pointed, was that, if we are not careful, we will be so sure that something is not necessary that we will not look at it as carefully as we ought.

The reason I suggest that my noble friend take Amendment 7 and the amendments that we are now discussing very seriously is this: the whole purpose of Parliament is to make sure that we expose the full extent of decisions of the Executive; it is to curb the Executive in the sense that it ensures that things do not slip through with unintended results.

I am sure that the Government have every intention of using this legislation properly; I am in no way criticising them about that. However, it is true that decisions made primarily by civil servants, which are not open to public scrutiny, can be disastrous. Any of us who have been Ministers know that; we know that one of the most important, perhaps the most important, protection the public have—and the most important discipline that one has as a Minister—is that decisions have to be debated and discussed. My noble friend knows that in this House, where we have limited powers, it is still true that very often during Committee and Report terrible gaps have been shown in legislative proposals. These are gaps which, once they have been revealed, the Government are rapidly determined to fill: to change what they are proposing because they had not meant to have that result.

In those circumstances, it is difficult, is it not, to give these powers so totally to the bureaucratic system? That is so even if one imagines that Ministers themselves have no intention of delivering other than what is perfectly in line with these legislative requirements. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that there should in all circumstances be a public discussion. The Government’s usual response is, “We can’t possibly do this as there isn’t time”. I am prepared to accept that as a generality, but this is not to impose a long-winded system; it is merely to say that what is proposed shall have sufficient public exposure and discussion to enable people to see whether it is within the proper confines of the Bill or reaches beyond it.

Although I had to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on an earlier amendment and his view of it, this one seems to draw attention to a very real issue. My noble friend and I share a considerable desire that these circumstances shall never arise. He is in no position to share my further desire, which is that we shall not leave the European Union anyway—I have no idea what his personal views are but I know what his views have to be at the Dispatch Box. The public will become less and less enamoured with this whole unprofitable and unacceptable process. If the Government want to protect themselves, at least to some extent, it is extremely important to make sure that these matters are processed in public. If they were ever to come about, the Government would find that protecting and defending what they have done was extremely hard, but why not accept that some further process beyond that allowed for in this Bill would be a democratic help in circumstances which will, we hope, not occur?