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Trade Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 5:00 pm, 6th March 2019

My Lords, we should be very grateful to the Constitution Committee for drawing our attention to this matter, which might otherwise not have been observed. I shall add just a few short points to those that have been made. The first is to stress the importance of the words in subsection (5), to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, drew our attention:

“Regulations under subsection (1) may, among other things, make provision—”.

It is the words “among other things” that cause me concern. They appear in the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill as well: they seem to be a feature creeping in to this kind of legislation, which is quite disturbing. If we find that phrase, I suggest that we have to be even more exacting in setting out the qualifications to the power, otherwise the words “among other things” may be used to expand the power in a way that we have not foreseen. It is really very important, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, pointed out, that we take those words into account in what we make of this amendment.

My second point is to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said about the comparison between Section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and what we have now, in reply to the point that we do not need to be concerned about that, because express provision would be needed for a regulation that sought, for example, to create a criminal offence. These exceptions, or almost exactly the same ones, are expressly set out in Section 8(7) as,

“regulations … may not … impose or increase taxation or fees … create a relevant criminal offence … establish a public authority”.

If it was thought appropriate to put those qualifications in that very important subsection, which does not contain the words “among other things”, I should have thought it was all the more important to have them here.

My last point is made with reference to the point made about Lord Steyn’s use of Explanatory Notes. I had the privilege of sitting with Lord Steyn for a number of years and of discussing with him how Explanatory Notes might be used. I do not think that at any point in our discussion he suggested to me that Explanatory Notes could be regarded as a form of legislation or its equivalent—certainly not. He was referring to them as a means of understanding ambiguities in legislation; he thought that one could look to the Explanatory Notes to understand the legislation one was seeking to explain. That was his point, and it was made in a number of cases where I agreed with him. It would be a mistake to think that he was embarking on something outside the normal use of Explanatory Notes, which is to explain but not to legislate. For these reasons and the others mentioned, I warmly support the amendment that the noble and learned Lord has brought to our attention.