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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative 6:45 pm, 8th January 2019

My Lords, in moving Amendment 12 I will speak to Amendments 13, 14 and 15, all of which are consequential. In this we will touch on some of the points raised in Amendment 6 by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. I am extremely grateful to her for having put her name to these amendments, as I am to my noble friend, Lord Leigh of Hurley.

The debate at Second Reading on 4 December and the debates on the amendments we have had this afternoon showed the very wide executive powers the Government are taking under the Bill’s provisions, notwithstanding the existence of a two-year sunset clause. The Government argue, in my view with some justification, that in the event of a no-deal Brexit these wide powers will be needed to cover the wide range of eventualities that might result from such an outcome. Further, given the great importance to the UK of the financial services sector, these powers are doubly needed. But if the Government accept, as I believe they do, that these powers are unusually wide, they surely cannot object to the legislature having a higher degree of transparency regarding when and why these powers will be used, so that it might undertake its proper constitutional role—referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and others—while scrutinising the activities of the Executive and holding them to account.

I respectfully suggest that the Bill as drafted fails in this purpose. Under Clause 1(8) the only evidence or check of the Government’s use of the power is the report by the Treasury, which it must provide at the end of 12 months—that is, April 2020. Noble Lords will be aware that this is already half way through the two-year period. The phrase about shutting stable doors and bolting horses comes to mind. No less importantly, while Clause 1(8) requires the Treasury to report when it has used the powers, it does not require any explanation as to why they have been used. The Treasury report in April 2020 under this subsection could be just a series of one-line entries.

My amendments have two very simple purposes: to shorten the reporting period and to require the report to include some qualitative explanation as to why it was felt necessary to use the powers in the first place. Amendment 12 would shorten the reporting period so that instead of there being just one report during the Bill’s life, there would be three: in October 2019, and in April and October 2020. Amendment 14 would require each of these reports to give a forward look on any expected use of the powers in the next six-month reporting period. Finally, Amendment 15 would require an explanation of the reasons why the powers are being used in the period under review and why their use is planned in the following six-month period.

Under the Bill, the Government are taking exceptional powers that, as has been pointed out repeatedly this afternoon, could in certain circumstances be used quite arbitrarily. I do not have the purity of approach of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—perish the thought. I am not sure that his purity of thought is entirely aimed at preserving the UK constitution; I think that he might have a wider objective, but never mind. However, I accept the broad argument of the unique challenge of a no-deal Brexit justifying the Government’s approach and the powers they propose to take. But I cannot and do not accept that the Bill as drafted gives sufficient opportunity for the legislature to scrutinise, let alone obtain justification of, their use. These modest amendments would redress this imbalance, achieve the degree of transparency commensurate with the seriousness of the intended powers and so help to maintain public trust and confidence. I beg to move.