Amendment 3

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 20th January 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Constitutional and Political Reform) 5:00 pm, 20th January 2020

My Lords, I am a co-signatory, with the noble Baroness, to Amendment 3, which leads this group. There is little that I need to add to what she has already said or, indeed, to what was said in the debate last week. However, I would like to raise one or two points with the Minister.

Looking at this as dispassionately and objectively as one can, one wonders whether Clause 21 was drafted before there was any confidence that there would be a new devolved Administration in Stormont. The impression is given that everything was going to have to be decided in London still, whereas since then there has been a very dramatic and welcome change in Northern Ireland—I give credit to the Minister and his colleagues for the part that they played in that. However, it looks as if this was thought through before that element was fully appreciated. It makes much better sense to go through the proper process of primary legislation and not to divert into secondary legislation for this purpose.

Last week, I quoted the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who referred to this clause as being, “Henry VIII on steroids”. It is the most egregious example of a really powerful use of a Henry VIII power in the whole Bill. There are several others, but this is the most obvious one because, as the noble Baroness has already said, it allows the change in the statute to be made without a reference to Parliament fully in its role as scrutineer. The Minister will recall that, in a powerful recommendation, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said:

“Even if the House accepts that there is a good reason for Clause 21 to allow regulations to modify the 2018 Act, the power should, in our view, be limited to the minimum necessary. We therefore recommend that the Bill should spell out the purposes for which the power is to be used rather than leaving the matter at large.”

The Bill should spell out how the power should be used, rather than the House just getting assurances from the Minister.

In last week’s debate, the Minister was kind enough to refer to this issue in the following terms:

“It would be very easy for me to say: ‘You have just got to trust me’. That is not what I am trying to say, and it would be foolish as noble Lords should not try to trust me. The important thing is to test me, and to test the Government. That is why, as well as putting these points to the House now, and setting out the areas in which we do need these necessary powers, I am happy to put that in to a note which I will supply and make available to all noble Lords who are interested in this, so they can see where we believe this power will be required to deliver the very thing that Northern Ireland wants: safety and security within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”—[Official Report, 14/1/20; col. 639.]

As the noble Baroness has said, there is apparently such a letter: I have not seen it. I took part extensively in that debate. I was in the Committee until almost the last moment on Thursday; I was in the House again this morning at 9.30 am. I cannot be accused of being absent on leave; I have been around. Why did that letter not come to me? From what the noble Baroness said, I can assume that there is an attempt to justify this part of the Bill. I have huge respect for the Minister and his respect for this House is well known, but, frankly, it is not satisfactory for Members of your Lordships’ House to be given that sort of undertaking from a Minister. It makes it very difficult for me and, no doubt, other Members who attended that debate but did not take part, if they have not seen the justification given in the letter.

Given that the House has now voted to amend the Bill, it is going to the Commons, even if it is for a very short time. There must surely be an opportunity for the Minister to explain on the record—not just with a letter, which may go astray—why the exceptional use of Henry VIII powers which I have described is being made at this juncture. That is all I need to say at the moment, but I shall listen with great interest to what the Minister may say. Perhaps he is going to read us the letter.