Amendment 3

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 20th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Chair, EU Justice Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Justice Sub-Committee 5:15 pm, 20th January 2020

My Lords, I support these amendments, in particular Amendments 5 and 7 spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. They are of fundamental importance and go to the heart of the devolution settlements. For a number of reasons I was not able to take part in the Committee stage of the Bill, although I was present for a great deal of the debate.

My interest in a devolved model of government began to crystallise when I was a postgraduate student at Cambridge as far back as 1954. As the Welsh Secretary, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to frame the architecture of a Welsh Bill in 1975, ill-fated as it was, but in 1998 I was given a second chance as a law officer in the Cabinet Committee to contribute to a more acceptable Bill. Anything that casts doubt on it or the important advances made since arouses my suspicion, because we have moved on. My principle is that once a matter is devolved, there is no going back. Once the hand of Westminster grants devolution, it cannot then be withdrawn. The Government must ensure that any suspicion of backsliding is removed.

New subsections (2) and—probably—(5) in Clause 21 cause deep suspicion for me. New subsection (2), which has already been referred to, says that a Minister may make by regulation

“any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament (including modifying this Act).”

This year I have enjoyed reading the book on Thomas Cromwell; I commend it. It is the life of the greatest political manipulator this country has ever seen—and probably the deviser of Henry VIII powers, because his hand was a very firm one on the tiller in all the legislative processes of that time. I ask the Minister frankly: could anything be wider than new subsection (2)? It is the Trojan horse that could amend the statutes that embed the devolution settlement.

As it stands, my suspicions are justified. The power is there to make changes to the devolution settlement even if the National Assembly and Welsh Government are opposed to the change. If Westminster has the Assembly’s agreement to changes, there is a perfectly respectable machinery for making them. It has already been referred to in the debate. In uncharted waters, such changes may be necessary.

I ask the Minister specifically: have the Government considered the alternative, a Section 109 Order in Council? This is the machinery available and could be used for any changes that might be required. Above all, they would be consensual as opposed to imposed changes. My second specific question is: will the Minister clarify and emphasise that legislative consent would normally be required for any regulation that would be brought in under this Act? Thirdly, have the Government discussed with the Welsh Government the anxieties they have? I commend these amendments.