Amendment 46

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 5:00 pm, 16th January 2020

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.