Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
46: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—“Regulations: extension of EUWA 2018 sifting provisions(1) Schedule 7 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 is amended as follows.(2) In paragraph 1(3), after “8(1)” insert “, 8A(1), 8B(1) or 8C(1)”.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment ensures the sifting provisions in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 apply to regulations made under inserted sections 8A to 8C.
In moving Amendment 46 I will speak to the other amendments in the group, which essentially have the same effect. Under the Bill there will be no extra sifting procedure of the sort that we established in the 2018 Act, which was able to act as a further check on the Brexit statutory instruments that were laid using the negative procedure. Quite a large number of instruments were recommended for upgrade to the affirmative procedure, and the process helped to identify a variety of drafting errors that could otherwise have left the statute book inoperable in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Our thoughtful and highly experienced Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended a sifting mechanism for this Bill along the lines of the 2018 Act. It would be able to recommend an upgrade from the negative to the affirmative procedure where the regulations were seen to be significant. That recommendation has been endorsed by our Constitution Committee, given the importance and potential breadth of powers in the Bill. It has also recommended that the sifting mechanism should be added as part of parliamentary scrutiny. In particular, the committee concurs with the recommendation of the DPRRC that the powers in Part 1, which are not accompanied by a sunset provision and are thus particularly important, should be subject to a sifting mechanism, as well as those in Part 3 and for the Clause 18 powers.
Rather than duplicate unnecessarily the provisions laid out in the 2018 Act, the amendments tabled in my name seek to make clear that the relevant delegated powers would be subject to these provisions. Given that we are in Committee, I hope that the Minister will understand that any issues in the drafting are the result of not having gone through all detail before, and that he will focus instead on the principle that the wide-ranging powers allowed for under the current Bill should be subject to a greater level of scrutiny. That, as I say, is not only for the sake of Parliament but to protect the Government from any errors.
I know that there may be some noble Lords who will probably disagree, having spent many a long afternoon in the Moses Room, but actually the sifting mechanism in the 2018 Act did work really well, and I think that that was the view of Ministers as well as those doing the scrutiny. Given that, it is slightly hard to see why the Government have not thought to repeat that process in this Bill, particularly given that it has been recommended by the DPRRC and the Constitution Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is attached to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, and in addition to those I will speak to Amendment 66A, which is on a more specific question. I endorse entirely what the noble Baroness said. I find it extremely difficult to understand what change of circumstance has made it necessary to depart from the very effective system that we produced in 2018 for sifting. At that stage I was a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and we were strongly in favour of the process because it did a good job.
I noticed just now that the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, who sadly is not in his place, when responding I think to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to “a change of regime” between the Administration of Mrs May and Mr Johnson. Regime change has a certain curious association in our minds, but if that is the real reason why there has been a change between 2018 and 2019 in the treatment of these matters, then of course that has wider significance because it is well known that the new Government take what I should perhaps call a more cavalier attitude to the role of Parliament, not least because they have a large majority in the other place.
I was contemplating just now the final part of Clause 38, with which my noble friend Lord Wallace was dealing. I did not intervene in the debate because it was so erudite that it went way above my head, but I thought that the final sentence—
“nothing in this Act derogates from the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom”— was a bit optimistic. Frankly, there are all sorts of relatively small items that refer to the role of Parliament, which is why the sifting issue comes in. It is rather like arriving at the pearly gates and thinking that it would somehow ease one’s passage to say to St Peter, “Look, I know I’ve committed all sorts of sins, but they’re all relatively minor, and in any case I went on record just before I arrived here and swore that I was actually very much against sin.” I notice we have two representatives of my church here so I hope that they will endorse that. It is really what this clause is saying: “Take no notice of the fact that throughout the Bill there are all sorts of examples where the Government are not really giving Parliament its proper role. Do not worry about it because we say that we are against that.” I find that not very consoling. The sifting mechanism is well tried. It has worked and we find it very difficult to understand why it has been ruled out in these circumstances.
I turn specifically to Amendment 66A in my name. It might seem a comparatively minor change, but it is indicative of the Government’s whole attitude to Parliament in the Bill, hence the significance of what I have just been saying. The proposal at page 68, line 9, is really quite extraordinary:
“A statutory instrument containing regulations under section 41(1) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
That sounds innocuous, but it actually means that the Government think that this is so unimportant that it can be pushed through at top speed. It is, if you like, the shortcut of all shortcuts.
That is why it has been picked out by the Delegated Powers Committee as a classic example of a Henry VIII power. I remind your Lordships that that committee is not in any sense a party committee; it is a cross-party committee led by a very distinguished former Conservative Minister. It speaks to us all about our role in this House. The committee says that
“clause 41 (consequential and transitional provision etc.) contains a Henry VIII power for a Minister of the Crown by regulations to repeal or amend any Act of Parliament passed from time immemorial until the end of the transitional period (the end of 2020) as part of such provision as the Minister considers appropriate in consequence of the Act. Such regulations are made pursuant to the negative procedure.
In seeking to justify this departure from the norm, the Government mention that primary legislation passed or made after December 2020 is not amendable under this provision. This offers limited comfort, given that every Act of Parliament passed before the end of December 2020 is amendable by Ministerial regulations made under the negative procedure. The Government also seek to justify the negative procedure on the ground that consequential powers are construed strictly by the courts. This is not relevant to the question whether Parliament should be able to scrutinize the legislation under the affirmative procedure.
Where regulations under clause 41(1) modify primary legislation or retained direct principal EU legislation, the affirmative procedure should apply in accordance with established practice and be consistent with the general approach in the Bill.”
That is why this relates back to our previous debate. Incidentally, the Constitution Committee made a very strong recommendation to agree with that recommendation.
It is quite possible that the Bill will be amended by this House next week. I know not on what issue, but it is quite likely that it will go back to the other place for Members of Parliament to look at again. I wonder whether the proposal tucked away at page 68 is actually a simple mistake, because it is so silly. What is the point of doing it? All it does is undermine the proper way the Bill should be considered and the proper way your Lordships’ House should take on its responsibilities in scrutinising the Government’s proposals. If it is a simple mistake, let the Minister simply say to us, “Look, come on. Let’s get this right.” Let us, for once, make some reasonably sensible change to the Bill. If it goes back to the other place, we will simply make sure that this matter is very firmly taken under the affirmative procedure, so that Members in both Houses can look at the issue in precisely the terms that they are advised to do by our delegated powers and constitution committees.
I hope the Minister will say, “Actually, we could look at this again.” We have not heard that phrase often in the last few days, but I plead with the Government. This is such a silly thing to do and flies in the face of all protestations of the importance of the role of Parliament in this regard.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for their opening statements on the amendments in this group. Of course, I well remember the many debates that we had during the passage of the 2018 Act on the extremely important subject of delegated powers. It is of great interest to us. I do not think the other place took as much interest in it, but it is nevertheless an important subject and I am grateful to both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for raising it.
I will say at the start that the Government have read with care the reports of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and, of course, the Constitution Committee, which were referred to. I am also grateful, as I said in my opening at Second Reading, for their contribution to the exit process to date.
I will speak first to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I note that they are co-signed by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who is not in his place. He is a signatory to these amendments and an extremely distinguished chair of the committee. A number of Members here are, of course, veterans of the debate that we had during the passage of the EU withdrawal Act about the introduction of a sifting mechanism into the Act. I agree that the sifting mechanism introduced then was a contribution to the unique set of circumstances in which we found ourselves as a consequence of that Act. I will argue today that the circumstances in which we find ourselves now are very different from those of the 2018 Act.
The first point, of course, is that the volume of statutory instruments that we will make under this Bill will be significantly less than those made under the 2018 Act. I suspect that this comes as a significant relief to many noble Lords. Secondly, the powers themselves are much narrower and more specific in nature. The DPRRC report itself acknowledged that:
“The scope of each power is … naturally constrained by the scope of the … matter contained in the Agreements that it is intended to address.”
Even more importantly, we have set out the procedure to be used when exercising the powers in this Bill. Ministers do not have the discretion that was afforded to them in the 2018 Act regarding the procedure attached to the use of the powers in this Bill. The argument then was that we needed a sifting mechanism because of the wide discretion given to Ministers to select the appropriate procedure. We do not have that procedure in the way this is drafted. As Members have observed, the general approach that we have taken is that the affirmative procedure will apply when the powers in the Bill are exercised so as to modify primary legislation—the so-called Henry VIII power—or retained direct principal EU legislation; the affirmative procedure will always apply in those circumstances.
Where the negative procedure applies, Members of the House may scrutinise the regulations and may, of course, pray against them should they wish to do so, as is usual for regulations of this kind. The sifting mechanism that was inserted in the 2018 Act worked very well. It was a unique response to a unique Bill. There were always going to be a huge amount of SIs introduced. There was much less certainty at the time about how they would be used, and a considerable amount of ministerial discretion on the procedure to be used. I submit to the House that none of those conditions applies to this withdrawal agreement Bill. I hope I have explained why the procedures for the powers in this Bill are of a different nature to those in the withdrawal Act and why the Government therefore cannot accept these amendments.
I turn to Amendment 66A, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. As noble Lords are aware, consequential powers are standard provisions in legislation—even legislation of great constitutional importance, such as the Constitutional Reform Act or the devolution statutes. The Bill already includes many consequential amendments at Schedule 5, but we also need to take a power to make further consequential provisions to the statute book. Again, this power is limited to making amendments consequential to the contents of the Act itself and. like consequential powers in other primary legislation, this power will be construed strictly by the courts. It is in everyone’s interest that the statute book functions effectively.
“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate in consequence of this Act.”
That is very widely drawn. If, as he said just now, there are fewer orders in prospect, that makes it all the more important that, with something as important as this, the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee be taken into account. I cannot see that his argument stands up.
The clause that the noble Lord quoted comes under the consequential provisions. As I just said, the consequential power is construed strictly by the courts. I am advised by departmental lawyers that there is an extremely narrow focus; they are amendments that can be made only as a direct consequence of the Bill when it is enacted. I do not think that it in any way provides leeway for a Minister to make things up on the spur of the moment and amend primary legislation. The powers are very strictly constrained to consequential amendments, and this is not an unusual provision. It exists in many other Acts, including those I quoted earlier. We believe that moving the consequential provision to the affirmative procedure would frustrate the ability of departments to make consequential changes before exit day.
As I said also on the other amendments, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that the use of the negative procedure does not prevent parliamentary scrutiny taking place. Members will still have the opportunity to pray against regulations should they consider it appropriate—and, as I said, there are the restrictions on the use of that power that I mentioned earlier.
I hope that, with the reassurances I have given noble Lords and a fuller explanation of the powers we propose to take, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Let it never be said that we think the Minister would make up something on the spur of the moment.
I have only two things to say. First, I am sure that both our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and our Constitution Committee considered the points that the Minister has just made and nevertheless recommended a sifting procedure, but be that as it may. Secondly—this does not actually affect these particular amendments, because we are talking about the negative procedure here—the Minister said that there would be fewer SIs under this Bill. He also said that it has “narrower powers.” I do not think our noble and learned Members who spoke the other day would see the power it gave, albeit of the affirmative, to Ministers to alter the way ECJ rulings are heard as a “narrow power.” But that, as I say, is not covered by this, although some of the powers in the Bill are rather large.
However, the point the Minister makes about the ability to pray against negative draft orders is significant. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Clauses 41 and 42 agreed.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Schedule 2: Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements
Amendment 47 not moved.