Amendment 3

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 20th January 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour) 4:45 pm, 20th January 2020

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 3 on behalf of myself and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. I shall also speak to Amendments 4, 5 and 7. These amendments are all tabled for the same reason: because the Government seem to like deciding things for themselves, with no reference to Parliament. That is possibly why they want to shove us up to York, where our voice will not be heard as loudly as it is in Westminster—although they have missed a trick by not trying to send us to Coventry.

Amendment 5 is needed because when the Government signed the withdrawal agreement allowing the EU-UK joint committee to amend the agreement itself, they failed to allow for scrutiny of the joint committee. The Government have this power under the Bill which is, in the words of our EU committee, a power immune from

“clear scrutiny procedures or parliamentary oversight”.

Clause 21 contains significant new powers to amend by statutory instrument the 2018 withdrawal Act, in what our DPRRC describes as

“a most potent form of Henry VIII clause, allowing regulations to modify their parent Act”.

It is not just unusual for the Government to have that power with only the most cursory of scrutiny to amend primary legislation; it is also unexplained.

Implementing the Northern Ireland protocol may well prove challenging, of course, but we have seen nothing to suggest that this would demand changes to the 2018 Act. Nor does the letter of 16 January from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, provide comfort when it states that the power could not be used to repeal the devolution settlement but be exercised only for the purposes of implementing the protocol and the Government’s policy on unfettered access. If that is the case, why is the power there to repeal? While the Minister says that the power would not be used to repeal any power in the 2018 Act, there is still no reason given as to why it is there, nor why Amendment 3 cannot be accepted, given that it would simply take out from the Bill the ability to amend the 2018 Act by statutory instrument, which the Minister says the Government will do not do anyway.

Amendment 4, in the name also of the noble Lord, Lord Beith, is needed because, as the DPRR Committee states, the Bill contains

“a … potent form of Henry VIII clause … creating a new legal regime that would otherwise require”,

an Act of Parliament. Furthermore, these Clause 21 powers have none of the restrictions which are found in respect of similar powers elsewhere in this Bill or in the 2018 Act. Amendment 4 would insert the same limitation on the Clause 21 regulation-making powers as exists elsewhere in this Bill and the other Act. After all, it would be pretty exceptional for Ministers to be able to create new criminal offences, including with two-year terms of imprisonment attached, to set up public bodies—just referred to by my noble friend Lord Hutton—or to levy taxes, yet the Government want the power the do that. The assurance in the letter of 16 January from the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, that this would be by affirmative procedure is of no comfort to this House, given that such a procedure is effectively never used to stop a Minister doing exactly what he or she wants.

Amendments 5 and 7 are in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who rightly said at Second Reading that it would be a terrible precedent if we altered the devolution legislation other than by primary legislation. The amendments would simply prevent Ministers using Clause 21 and 22 powers to amend the statutes which embed the devolution settlements. As we know, there is a perfectly viable, acceptable way of amending the Welsh statutes without primary legislation where the National Assembly agrees with the change; that is, through Section 109 Order in Council. We have been given no reason why the Government have written themselves these powers, which I fear can mean only that they want to change the devolution settlements without the consent of the National Assembly and Welsh Government.

Given that, even now, the Government seem determined to push this Bill through without legislative consent from the Welsh Assembly, these powers are understandably fuelling suspicion. I therefore trust that the Minister will accept Amendments 5 and 7 and, by doing so, rule out any chance of the Government trying to amend the Government of Wales Act without the consent of the National Assembly.

The Minister knows full well that the Assembly is due to debate its legislative consent Motion tomorrow. It would be shame—in fact, it would be more than a shame; it would be a constitutional landmark and a bad one—if this consent Motion were to be withheld due to the powers in this Bill, which appear to threaten the Government of Wales Act. Amendments 5 and 7 are therefore of some consequence.

We have been given no satisfactory explanation for why Parliament should give Ministers powers to amend by order the withdrawal agreement, the 2018 Act or the devolution statutes. Frankly, unless and until we have such an explanation, this power must come out of the Bill. I beg to move.