Consequential etc provision

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 10:45 am, 26th February 2019

It was a little while after my first election in 2015 that I first heard the term “Henry VIII clause,” but I have become very familiar with it since then. The clauses in the Immigration Act 2016 were outrageous enough, but they are small beer compared with the powers the Government have helped themselves to in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and in this Bill. There is no need to take my word for it; we have ample evidence. The amendments are largely based on submissions from the Law Society of Scotland and the report of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I am very grateful to both. It is unusual to have the benefit of the Lords Committee report for a Commons Bill, but it has certainly proved helpful. The Committee said:

“The combination of the subjective test of appropriateness, the words ‘in connection with Part 1’, the subject matter of Part 1 and the large number of persons who will be affected, make this a very significant delegation of power from Parliament to the Executive. The scope of this broad power is expanded even further by subsections (2) to (5).”

If we are serious about our role as legislators and about separating the Executive from the legislature, we must start putting our foot down and reining in these clauses. Otherwise, what on earth are we here for?

We can start that process through amendment 4, by replacing the subjective test of appropriateness. Through amendment 1 we can ditch the phrase “in connection with”. The Committee was absolutely scathing here. It said:

“We are frankly disturbed that the Government should consider it appropriate to include the words ‘in connection with’. This would confer permanent powers on Ministers to make whatever legislation they considered appropriate, provided there was at least some connection with Part 1, however tenuous; and to do so by negative procedure regulations (assuming no amendment was made to primary legislation)”.

Amendment 2 is also from the House of Lords Committee’s recommendations. It removes clause 4(v). It noted that subsection (v)

“confers broad discretion on Ministers to levy fees or charges on any person seeking leave to enter or remain in the UK who pre-exit would have had free movement rights under EU law”.

It recommended removal

“unless the Government can provide a proper and explicit justification for its inclusion and explain how they intend to use the power”.

That is the challenge for the Minister this morning.

As for the Government’s justifications and the memorandum on delegated powers stating that the powers are needed to protect EEA citizens, it is fair to say that the Committee was not persuaded. It said:

“We believe that transitional arrangements to protect existing legal rights of EEA nationals should appear on the face of the Bill, and not simply left to regulations with no opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny until after they have been made and come into force.”

That is exactly what Opposition MPs have sought to do with other amendments that we will come to later. The consequence of that for the Committee was that there would be no need to use made affirmative procedures set out in clause 4(vi). It recommended removal of that subsection, which is what my amendments 3 and 5 seek to do. The very unusual made affirmative procedure means that the regulations are actually in force when they are tabled in the House of Commons before we have even voted on them. Our position is that the more common made affirmative procedures should be followed, and instruments should be laid in draft and should not come into force until we examine and approve them—hence amendments 6 and 7.

I conclude with some comments by the Law Society of Scotland. It said:

“The abrogation of parliamentary scrutiny is deeply concerning and the cumulative effect of these provisions is to reduce the role of parliamentary scrutiny of legislation relating to immigration, both EU and non-EU”.

For all these reasons, I hope that the Government will listen carefully and rein in their desires for extensive delegated powers under clause 4.