My Lords, this is the main amendment on Report. It seeks to leave out Clause 2, which gives the appropriate Minister, whether in the devolved Administrations or in central government, the power subsequently to introduce changes to domestic law, including changes incidental to international treaties made with foreign countries, on the basis that domestic law should be changed because that has been agreed with a foreign country. In addition, it allows the Executive to introduce by secondary legislation changes to domestic law to give effect to model laws, for example in relation to insolvency. We oppose that extension of executive power. We believe that it represents a very substantial break with past practice, which requires treaties dealing with private international law to be introduced and change our domestic law by primary legislation, and we will press this issue to a Division.
I will set out briefly the way that we put our case in relation to this. Clause 1 gives effect, as part of the domestic law of this country, to three international agreements. The first is the 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Cooperation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children. This convention aims to improve the protection of children in cross-border disputes. It is a thoroughly good thing; it makes significant changes, or gives effect to significant powers, in the UK family courts.
The second is the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, which aims to ensure the effectiveness of exclusive choice of court agreements between parties to international commercial transactions. These clauses are common, particularly in high-value commercial contracts. Again, this is a good convention; it makes changes to UK domestic law and we support its incorporation.
The third is the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and other Forms of Family Maintenance, which provides for rules for the international recovery of child support and spousal maintenance. Again, it is a good thing and makes significant changes to domestic law. We support the incorporation into our law of these three conventions; it is being done in the normal way, namely by primary legislation.
Clause 2 is intended to apply to all subsequent private international law agreements, whether identified at the moment or not. It is a new clause and a new constitutional power; this has not been done before. From time to time— with, if I may say so, considerable feebleness—the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General sought to suggest that it was not a change in the law and referred to the 1933 and 1920 Acts on the administration of justice. Those Acts allowed new countries, whether in the Commonwealth or outside it, to be joined to a convention for the enforcement of foreign judgments which had been introduced by primary legislation. He did not make his case at all. If and in so far as the Minister had other material, he could have placed it before the Constitution Committee. It rejected his argument, saying:
“This is a significant new power that would change the way this type of international agreement is implemented in UK law and how Parliament scrutinises them. It therefore needs careful consideration.”
He has laid no material before the Chamber to suggest that this is not a new means of making domestic law consistent with international agreements. This House should proceed on the basis that it is a new way of doing it.
The Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee have considered whether this secondary legislating power should be granted, and both are very clear that it should not. The Constitution Committee said:
“We are not persuaded by the arguments the Government has made in support of this power. If the balance between the executive and Parliament is to be altered in respect of international agreements, it should be in favour of greater parliamentary scrutiny and not more executive power.”
The Constitution Committee goes on in paragraph 25 of its report:
“The clause 2 powers are a matter of significant constitutional concern. It is inappropriate for a whole category of international agreements to be made purely by delegated legislation. Such an approach risks undermining legal certainty.”
In saying that, that committee had in mind that if they are introduced by secondary legislation, even though they may have a significant effect on domestic law, those changes to domestic law are nevertheless subject to being set aside by judicial review.
The Constitution Committee also rejected the idea that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act—CRAG, as it called—provided for sufficient debate. It described that power as flawed and inadequate and pointed out that it did not, in any event, apply to model laws. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reached the same conclusion, saying that
“clause 2 represents an inappropriate delegation of power and we recommend that it should be removed from the face of the Bill”.
In our respectful submission, we should not allow Clause 2 and it should be removed. The only argument the Minister advanced was in relation not to the overall power but to the Lugano convention. I had a conversation with him recently in which I asked whether he would be restricting the power to Lugano. If he had said that he was going to restrict the Clause 2 power to Lugano and otherwise ditch it, the House should have considered that. However, he made it absolutely clear to me that he wanted the full power. In those circumstances, we had no option but to table an amendment deleting Clause 2 altogether. It is constitutionally inappropriate and unnecessary, and it leads to legal uncertainty. It has nothing whatever to recommend it. I beg to move Amendment 2.
My Lords, I agree with the points made so forcefully by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. My concern about the width of Clause 2 arises from the discussions and conclusions on this Bill in your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, of which I am a member. The noble and learned Lord has already mentioned the relevant paragraphs of our report, HL Paper 55, which we published on
The Constitution Committee recognised that many of the international agreements to which Clause 2 would apply are technical in nature, and it recognised that the text of an international agreement cannot easily be changed, or be changed at all, after negotiations have concluded—points emphasised at various stages by the Minister. However, we take the view that that is no justification for allowing the law of this country to be changed by statutory instrument in this context without full parliamentary debate. That is because important policy decisions might arise in this context both on whether to implement an international agreement in domestic law and on the manner in which such an agreement is to be implemented.
International agreements often recognise a discretion for signatory states on a variety of matters, some of them of considerable policy interest and concern. Those policy decisions should be the subject of detailed debate and possible amendment of a Bill on the Floor of the House—or whatever the remote equivalent of the Floor of the House is. Those policy decisions should not be for Ministers to decide by unamendable regulations in relation to which there can be only limited debate.
I emphasise that this is not emergency legislation; it is a proposal from the Government for a permanent shift in power to the Executive. In Committee, the Minister did not make out any case for such a change in the law. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, divides the House, he will have my support.
My Lords, the matter has been so fully covered by the speeches already made that I have little to add, other than my full support for what has been said. However, I wish to emphasise three points.
First, the devolution arrangements in this clause have always troubled me. I refer to what I see as a lack of clarity about whether it is the Scottish Ministers or the Secretary of State who will exercise the powers referred to in Clause 2(1) in relation to “implementing” the international agreement on the one hand and “applying” it on the other. This is an indication, surely, that the Bill is seeking to crowd too much into this clause. It would be far better to leave these matters to primary legislation according to the ordinary and well-understood rules as to which legislature is to deal with what, according to what is reserved and what is not.
Secondly, the umbrella phrase “any international agreement”—I stress the word “any”—indicates that it is intended to catch a wide variety of international transactions relating to private international law. At present, leaving aside Lugano, we have no idea of what they might be. It seems likely, however, that they will not be many, but any one of them could be very important and raise issues which should not be left to the exercise of Executive power. The pressure on Parliament if we were to proceed by way of a Public Bill in the ordinary way and not by way of statutory instrument would be quite limited. Therefore, it is hard to see why we have to go down this road at all.
Thirdly, there is no sunset clause in the Bill. I could understand it if it had been intended to deal only with measures that needed to be in force before the end of the implementation period or measures that were otherwise urgent and short term, but, without such a clause, this Bill is entirely open ended. Committing all international agreements to the statutory instrument procedure at Westminster and in the devolved legislatures as a permanent feature of our law, whatever the political situation might be, seems to be highly undesirable.
My Lords, I speak in support of my noble and learned friend. He will recall that in Committee, when we debated this matter briefly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, laid down a challenge. He said that those who are in government are in favour of secondary legislation but, when they are in opposition, they are against it. I think that the case has been made this afternoon very clearly that this is an extension of the way in which Governments apply secondary legislation, and the Constitution Committee and Delegated Powers Committee have reinforced that very strongly.
As a politician—I am not a lawyer, although I am in the company of distinguished lawyers—I am reminded of the kinds of proposals that used to be brought before Labour Party conferences in the 1980s. A number of rather sensible measures—my noble and learned friend mentioned the 1996, 2005 and 2007 measures—are completely undermined by something highly controversial and unnecessary which is thrown in.
We are dealing with this matter in our virtual Parliament and seeking to find a way through. I hope that, as this amendment to delete this clause is pushed to a vote, the Government will think again and be prepared to attend to the major issues, rather than push through an extension of delegated power, including to complementary and associated measures and model laws, as has been described. We could then have wholehearted agreement.
I too support this amendment. In the light of what has been said by the noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have already spoken, I can confine my remarks to a very few sentences.
Essentially, the constitutional position is one of long standing and should not be changed without justification. That justification has to be seen in the context of a significant move towards Bills becoming more of a framework and with more being done by secondary legislation. We should take a firm stand that that should happen only where necessary. No justification has been put forward for it being necessary. For example, most international conventions and model laws are negotiated at a glacial pace. There can rarely be any justification for the need for legislation to be implemented quickly.
I should add that of course there might have been an exception in the case of Lugano but, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has already explained, that could have been dealt with. Of course, it is a convention that many lawyers in the UK want and hope that we shall accede to in the interests of the UK economy and of the position of London, but the Minister has taken the view that the clause cannot be confined to that. In those circumstances, I fully support, and will support in a Division, the amendment put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
My Lords, I want first to say how privileged I am to be sandwiched in the list between two noble and learned Lord Thomases, emanating as I do from the junior branch of the legal profession. I ask my noble and learned friend the Minister, as I did in Committee, to affirm, in the light of the impending Brexit deal or no deal, his full support for the power of English law internationally and, indeed, for the jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales. We have a unique gem here, which can not only speak to our international role but, as he knows, can be of such benefit to so many private international deals; this can only be built upon. I urge him to take every opportunity to push the positivity around English law and the jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
Secondly, I ask the Minister, in the most delicate and humble way: if Brexit was all about repatriating powers to Parliament, how does the current Clause 2 sit with that aim?
The Government’s position appears to be that the incorporation into domestic law of the terms of a treaty, or of an international agreement involving private international law, should not require any detailed scrutiny by Parliament. The Government’s reasoning is that the time for stakeholders to make representations is before the international agreement is made. Once the rules have been agreed, they say, a Minister has little or no discretion to exercise in framing the requisite statutory instrument. It is all over and there is no need for any shouting.
This would be all very well if we could have the slightest confidence that the negotiations of that agreement were transparent; but we have seen in the Brexit negotiations a complete lack of transparency. Many times, pleas were made to Ministers to outline our negotiating position. “Oh, we couldn’t do that,” the Minister would reply, “because that would undermine our bargaining position.”
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, in his response of
“As the UK develops its wider trading policy with the EU and rest of the world, agreements on private international law will be key to supporting cross-border commerce by providing businesses, investors and consumers with greater confidence that disputes across borders can be resolved in a clear and efficient way.”
This surely underlines the importance of the issues that we are discussing today. The question of jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments is crucial. Just because the word “private” is attached in the title to “international law”, it should not be thought that we are concerned merely with family disputes and the enforcement of access to children or maintenance orders in different jurisdictions. Important as those issues undoubtedly are, the significance of these provisions goes very much to the heart of rebuilding our economy and regaining our leading trading position in the world, not least in the provision of financial and legal services. For example, in the current negotiations concerning our leaving the European Union, with or without a trade deal, one stumbling block appears to be the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. For 40 years, we have accepted its jurisdiction and an analysis of its judgments demonstrates the overwhelming success of British lawyers before that court. We have lost very few contested cases and settled others very satisfactorily on agreed terms.
Jurisdiction is important. I cannot see why the Prime Minister thinks that the European Union is likely in these current negotiations to accept the British rejection of the European Court of Justice as a tribunal for resolving disputes, but that it will accept our Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter. Such an approach seems to me to be in cloud-cuckoo-land.
Where there are critical issues such as jurisdiction to be resolved, obviously it is wholly inadequate to tell business and other stakeholders that they may make their case only before the details of a treaty or agreement emerge into the light of day. As for Parliament, do we have the slightest idea of the detailed negotiating position in these current talks? What possible contribution can parliamentarians make to the rules of our future trade with Europe, which may emerge by the end of October or by Christmas Day?
Government negotiators should have to bear in mind that any agreement or treaty they may enter into will require full analysis and debate in Parliament before being given the full endorsement of incorporation into domestic law. I was disappointed, as was the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, by the gloomy comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, in Committee. In effect, he said that we all agree in principle to parliamentary accountability, but in government, the reality is that the only consideration is time—getting the business over and done with. It was interesting that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, in his letter to the Committee, used the expression “in a timely manner” no fewer than five times, and with something of a Homeric ring. Come to think of it, the Prime Minister might pin on his wall in No. 10 the Greek motto of the Roman emperor Augustus: “speude bradeos”, or “hasten slowly”.
Suetonius wrote of Augustus:
“Nihil autem minus perfecto duci quam festinationem temeritatemque convenire arbitrabatur”,
meaning, “He thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness.” Well, Augustus was a pretty successful politician. He really did rule the whole of the known world.
My Lords, I declare my interest in the field of private international law and arbitration. I am also chair of the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Private International Law, which was not involved in the Bill generally but has, since Second Reading, been asked to advise on the subject of the government amendments to Schedule 5, which we will come to later and which the committee blessed. I have nothing to add on Clause 1, which is admirable and conventional. On Clause 2, I am grateful personally to the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General for Scotland for engaging with me, but I regret that his response strikes me as a little like that of the Black Knight in the Monty Python sketch; having lost the arms and legs of his argument, he still comes forward with the Bill—particularly Clause 2—between his teeth.
Opinion is almost universally against Clause 2. The two committees that have reported have categorically condemned it. The argument based on the existence of CRaG 2010 has been described by the Constitution Committee as limited and flawed, and I will come back to that. The speeches at Second Reading and in Committee were almost unanimously against Clause 2. One wonders, as the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Holmes of Richmond, have hinted, why this House exists as a revising Chamber at all if such universal adverse opinion is ignored.
It is true that Parliament generally has not had a major role in private international law since we became an EU state but, as noble Lords have pointed out, one thought that the purpose of recent events was to restore UK institutions to a fuller role. There is no real explanation or justification for Clause 2, an indefinite provision without a sunset clause, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope has just pointed out.
Private international law is important, both to individuals personally, in areas such as divorce and family, and to businesses. It merits direct parliamentary scrutiny. The Government’s justification for Clause 2 is simply that it would be very convenient and might speed things up. The same reasoning would justify removing any role for Parliament at all, just leaving it to bless by affirmative order on a yes/no basis any subordinate legislation devised by the Executive.
As my noble friend Lord Pannick pointed out, the prior Acts relied on do not justify this large extension. The 1920 and 1933 Acts were confined in scope to recognise jurisdictions, starting with Her Majesty’s overseas jurisdictions and then other comparable foreign jurisdictions, and were limited to recognition and enforcement of judgments only. We are concerned in this Bill with wide-ranging schemes such as those we will lose the benefit of at the end of the implementation period for allocation of jurisdiction, dealing with things such as concurrent proceedings in two states. These are very controversial issues.
Although by itself the Lugano convention may well be the best we can go for in the present state, it merits parliamentary debate. There are defects in the Lugano convention compared with our present state of affairs as a member of the EU. There are very considerable questions whether one might not be better off with other arrangements. Still, while one might have accepted Lugano alone, the wide-ranging nature of Clause 2 means that it applies to anything indefinitely in the future.
The only things actually suggested are Lugano and passing references to the Singapore mediation convention, which is an extremely minor area of the law—it is important when mediation occurs, but there is probably no difficulty in any event enforcing mediation results under present domestic law. There is also the 2019 Hague Convention, which has many merits but is in complete infancy. It has only two signatories: Uruguay and Ukraine. That is a long way down the road. There is no urgency. There are no model laws pointed to, even if it were desirable to give the Government this power in respect of model laws. As my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said a moment ago, private international law measures proceed at glacial pace.
I revert to the position on CRaG: quite apart from the inadequacy of its procedures, reliance on CRaG is fallacious for two reasons. The Explanatory Notes say that everything will already have been scrutinised by CRaG before domestic legislation takes place; Parliament will already, through CRaG, have agreed that the UK should join. That is not right; it is the wrong way round. Normally—this was practice until today—domestic legislation is enacted before ratification, and CRaG comes into operation only at ratification. There are a number of examples of that; in the case of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act, the convention was 1978, the domestic Act was 1982 and ratification was one or two years later. There is the same pattern with the Warsaw convention and the CMR convention on the carriage of goods by road. The domestic legislation preceded ratification by six years for the Warsaw convention and two years for the CMR convention, I think. CRaG does not help for that reason.
CRaG also does not help for a different reason: ratification may be subject, like signature, to reservations or declarations which are permitted by the relevant international agreement or are not inconsistent with its object and purpose. That is Article 19 of the Vienna convention of 1969. It is not therefore merely a question of whether to implement or the manner in which to implement domestically, as my noble friend Lord Pannick suggested. There are huge questions at the level of international law about what declarations or reservations to make, or there can be.
A good example of that is the 2019 Hague Convention itself. That will be a jurisdiction convention, and it will raise questions about in what areas we should agree to accept other countries’ judgments. Do we exclude judgments when they affect UK residents on both sides, exclude any other area, or exclude judgments abroad given against UK officers of state? Most importantly of all, which foreign states’ judgments do we recognise? Will we accept under the 2019 convention judgments from Russia or from China? Those are big questions, which certainly merit parliamentary debate.
I join the opposition to Clause 2 and simply add that there are ancillary objections to it: its non-exhaustive definition of private international law, its inclusion of a reference to arbitral awards, which has not been satisfactorily explained, and its inclusion of a reference to penal provisions, to which we will come later. The fundamental objection remains to erosion of Parliament’s proper realm.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment, which I support wholeheartedly. I will be relatively brief because I set out my reasons at some length in Committee, and because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and all other noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have spoken have argued the case so persuasively.
To give private international law treaties the force of domestic law is not a trivial rubber-stamping exercise. It may involve significant and complex law in relation to treaty implementation and enforcement provisions. Those were points well made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance. It is not just the breadth of the possible future treaties that might be affected by this clause but the sheer unpredictability of such treaties that we may consider in future. There is no way that that is defined or limited satisfactorily by the provisions of the Bill.
There is also a strong argument that this clause would open the way to the Executive further usurping the role of Parliament in an extension of what has been widely and rightly criticised as a thoroughly unwelcome trend for Parliament to have its role circumscribed by delegation of powers to the Executive. This type of argument is often dismissed as a “floodgates” or “thin end of the wedge” argument, because it is said to ignore the detail of the particular case under consideration. However, these arguments are real and, given the respect that we rightly pay to precedent in our constitutional discussions and in the context of our having an unwritten constitution, such arguments deserve to be taken seriously. If private international law treaties today, why not other international treaties tomorrow and a still less constrained role for the Executive further down the line?
No matter how often Ministers say that the availability of the affirmative resolution procedure or even the super-affirmative procedure gives Parliament a right to scrutinise and vote down delegated legislation, we all know the reality: that unamendable regulations are extremely difficult in practice to get changed, withdrawn or rejected as a result of parliamentary scrutiny. That is why removing this clause from the Bill is so important.
A particularly pernicious aspect of this clause is the power to create new criminal offences by regulation, even those carrying sentences of imprisonment. One can foresee that enforcement in particular of international treaty obligations may indeed involve criminal sanctions against non-compliant individuals. We may return to this with Amendment 10, if that turns out to be necessary. However, it would be far better for us to get rid of Clause 2 altogether—a change we may just succeed in holding when the Bill goes to the Commons.
I also remind the House of the important point, made in the Constitution Committee’s report, that regulations are amenable to judicial review and so could be challenged in the courts. Clause 2 would risk the unattractive position that, having entered into international obligations by treaty and Ministers having passed regulations to give them the force of domestic law and to enable compliance and enforcement, the courts would then be entitled to quash those regulations if they were challenged. That would be seriously unsatisfactory.
The Constitution Committee rested its argument on the valid ground of legal uncertainty. I add that such a position would undermine us internationally, further damaging our reputation for being good for our word and bringing our democratic legal processes into disrepute. This is an important point, but I wind up by saying that it is a subsidiary reason for removing Clause 2. The central point is the point of principle on which I suggest the House has a constitutional duty to vote this clause down.
My Lords, we debated Clause 2 at great length at Second Reading and in Committee, and I note the further observations made by noble, and noble and learned, Lords with regard to the issue. As I have explained, the Bill is about implementing in domestic law treaties that we have already determined to join. Parliament will be afforded scrutiny under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—CRaG—process prior to ratification. If it is not content, ratification will not occur.
While I acknowledge that there are differing views as to how effective CRaG has been to this point, it is perhaps important to recognise that, as of
Furthermore, as with other powers to implement international agreements by way of secondary legislation that exist in the fields of, for example, taxation or social security, we are talking about private international law agreements that are, by their nature, quite technical in their terms. The details of any rules contained in these sorts of agreements will already have been determined at the international level and are usually, by their very nature, clear and precise. The power seeks to allow Ministers to bring forward regulations to effectively implement rules that have been agreed with our international partners and to bring them into domestic law.
It is our view that the level of scrutiny afforded to the implementation of new agreements on private international law is reasonable and proportionate. The implementation of any such agreements would require an affirmative statutory instrument. Noble Lords will be aware that affirmative SI debates in this place are often very thorough, as they should be. There is no reason to suppose that there would be anything other than rigorous debate on the issue of implementation, just as there would be regarding ratification under CRaG.
It was argued in Committee and touched on this afternoon that there was a risk, under our approach, of a statutory instrument made under Clause 2 being struck down as non-compliant with, for example, the Human Rights Act 1998. Of course, that is true of any secondary legislation that the Government bring forward. However, the risk in respect of private international law agreements is not likely to be great. Indeed, I struggle to envisage a situation where the United Kingdom and its international partners would collectively agree a private international law treaty that was not compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.
It remains the view of the Government that, in spite of the concerns raised, this power is necessary if we are to achieve our objective of building on the United Kingdom’s leadership role in private international law in the years to come. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, mentioned the importance of the choice of English law and jurisdiction, and if we are going to maintain that important role, we must ensure that we are in a position to move effectively—and that may mean rapidly—in the implementation of private international law agreements. That would allow us to make the most of the competence that will return to us at the end of the transition period.
As has been noted by noble Lords and noble and learned Lords, in the immediate term we have specific concerns about accession to the Lugano Convention 2007, and there are further issues with regard to other conventions that have been mentioned. We may not know the outcome of the United Kingdom’s application to accede to the Lugano Convention for some months, and we cannot implement this convention unless and until the terms of our accession are agreed with the existing contracting parties, including the European Union. So there is a very real concern that there will not be sufficient parliamentary time for bespoke primary legislation to be drafted and taken through Parliament before the end of the transition period. That would mean a delay in our ability to implement the Lugano Convention, with serious adverse effects on United Kingdom businesses, individuals and families with regard to cross-border disputes after the end of the transition period.
Beyond the implementation of Lugano, the power is essential also, in our view, for future private international law agreements. Mention was made of the Singapore Convention on Mediation and the 2019 Hague Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgements in Civil or Commercial Matters. I acknowledge, as a number of noble and learned Lords observed, that the pace with which such conventions proceed can be relatively slow, but as and when there is the necessary conclusion and ratification, it may be necessary to find appropriate time in which to ensure implementation in domestic law. If that is not possible by way of primary legislation, we are liable to find ourselves at a distinct disadvantage in that respect.
The extension of this to the matter of arbitration was also mentioned, I believe by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance. The rules on recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards do of course fall within the definition of private international law. We recognise the success of the New York Convention, and that arbitration more broadly is an important matter approached by reference to that convention. The Government are not planning any change to our approach to arbitration, nor are we aware of any planned updates to the New York Convention, which is the leading international instrument in this area. We acknowledge that arbitration is a sensitive area, and that the current arrangements work well. I reassure noble Lords that, if there were any changes to the current arrangements for arbitration, that would be a matter on which we would consult extensively.
I return to the matter of precedent, which was touched on by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. It has been argued that taking a delegated power of this sort is unprecedented. However, we do not accept this. Our approach to Clause 2 broadly reflects the way in which we have implemented private international law agreements in recent years as an EU member state, under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. Delegated powers have been taken to implement international agreements on private international law and in other contexts. That has been touched on already.
Of course, there are more recent instances—for example, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, raised the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which contains extensive and important delegated powers in this area, concerning the ratification of the 2000 Hague Convention on the International Protection of Adults, and the extension and ratification of that for England and Wales.
The 2005 Act was, of course, passed by a previous Labour Government, and was introduced at Second Reading in this House on
“Regulations may make provision … otherwise about the private international law of England and Wales in relation to the protection of adults” and
“may … make provision about countries other than Convention countries.”
I wish we had thought of such broad powers when we were drafting this Bill.
When, at Report stage of the Bill that became the 2005 Act, the then Government had the opportunity to explain the delegated powers that they required under that Act, they explained their rationale as follows:
“These regulations provide us with flexibility, allowing us to amend the Bill in the light of developments with the Hague Convention on the International Protection of Adults, once the convention has come into force”.—[Official Report, 17/3/05; col. 1551.]
That echoes observations made in Committee on behalf of this Government with regard to these delegated powers. I appreciate that they are less wide-ranging than those embraced by Schedule 3 to the 2005 Act, but they are nevertheless there to allow flexibility, so that we can keep pace with international developments in areas of law as relevant today as they were in 2005.
I appreciate that is perhaps not uncommon for some to undergo a damascene conversion on the road from government to opposition but, with respect, it appears to me that a power seen as essential for flexibility in 2005—a power that we now see would be applied consequent on the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, to ratify the 2000 convention in England and Wales—is one which we can properly consider appropriate in other contexts.
In summary, while I note the concerns raised about this power, for the reasons that I have sought to set out I do not accept that it is without precedent or, indeed, disproportionate. We consider it necessary and important. It is essential if we are to maintain our position as an appropriate jurisdiction and choice of law. I therefore urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I am obliged to every noble Lord and noble and learned Lord who has spoken in this debate. I have never been present when every single speaker has been against the Government, though when I heard the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, it was possible to understand why. He appeared to have failed completely to understand the basis of the objection to Clause 2. The basis of that objection is that the clause is wrong as a matter of principle and constitutes a change in our constitutional practice by allowing significant changes to be made in domestic law simply because we have agreed them with a foreign country.
At no stage did the Minister address that argument. Indeed, he advanced arguments which at some stages he had advanced previously but not with any degree of enthusiasm, in particular the argument that it was “essential” for the Government to have this power to remain a significant force in commercial law and financial and legal services. When one is a law officer, it is obviously okay to put forward entirely implausible political arguments—people can make their own judgment about them. These arguments went very close to the line in relation to the law. When asked to provide some justification for arguing precedent for this measure, the Minister did two things. First, he referred to EU law. It is hard to know what his answer is to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond; I thought that the whole point of leaving the EU was to avoid powers of this very sort. He then referred to the 2005 Act bringing into force the convention in relation to vulnerable adults. He appeared not to have spotted that that was primary legislation giving effect to an international convention.
The Minister finally said that the Government would consult; for example, on arbitration. Is there any point in paying respect to that remark, when every single person in the Lords is opposed to Clause 2 and the Government have simply ignored it?
I am disappointed by what the noble and learned Lord has said, but, sadly, not surprised. I beg leave to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 2.
Ayes 320, Noes 233.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 3. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 4: Extent, commencement and short title
Amendment 3 not moved.