Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 1st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 1st Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 22: Powers corresponding to Section 21 involving devolved authorities
18: Clause 22, page 26, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) But regulations under this Part may not amend or repeal the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 2006 or the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”Member’s explanatory statement
This would ensure that regulations made under this Part may not make provision to amend the Scotland Act 1998, the Government of Wales Act 2006, and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in line with restrictions under new paragraph 11G, Schedule 2 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Clause 19).
My Lords, yesterday, I explained the purpose of the amendments that we sought to make at that stage, and the first, second and fourth amendments in this group all underlie the same purpose; namely, to ensure that if changes are necessary to the devolution settlements, they are dealt with in a proper constitutional manner, and that when we are outside the EU, the spirit, as well as the letter, of the devolution settlements is followed and the Government at Westminster pay the greatest regard to them.
I should make it clear, as I did yesterday, that I approach this from the standpoint of Wales, in part because that is where, by and large, my experience comes from, and because the union and its continuation is so important to Wales. It is essential that this House, and, I hope, Her Majesty’s Government, give every encouragement to those in Wales who wish to see the union strengthened, by close co-operation. It may seem that these devolution issues are not that important at this time, but they are. It is inevitable that the devolution schemes will have to be looked at in the light of our departure from the European Union.
I will deal with each of the three proposed amendments, the first of which seeks to amend Clause 22. I intend to say very little about this. It follows on from last night’s debate on the amendments to Clause 21 and the extent to which powers conferred in that clause are not subject to limitations. The same arguments apply to Clause 22. In light of the position that was left last night, I see no point in advancing the arguments to the same effect all over again.
On Clause 26 and Amendment 23, in a way, this amendment comes out of order, because it presupposes that the amendments suggested that would delete proposed new subsections 5A and 5B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and other noble Lords, will not proceed. I will make some observations in due course in support of the objectives of the clause, but not on the manner in which those objectives are sought to be carried out. I will make those observations when we come to that amendment. This amendment addresses a much simpler issue: the importance of giving due regard to the views of the devolved Administrations in Wales, Scotland and—now that it is again in place—Northern Ireland, in formulating any draft regulations of the kind envisaged in the clause, both as to the courts that are to be entitled to depart from previous decisions and the tests that are to be applied.
The clause rightly provides for prior consultation with the judiciary if Ministers decide to proceed in this way. Although Wales’s judiciary is linked with that of England at present, I ought to declare that I presided over a commission appointed by the Welsh Government that examined the future of the legal system in Wales, and in particular, the possible establishment in due course—long outside the scope of the time of this Bill, of course—of a separate judiciary in Wales. The clause also provides for other persons to be consulted but does not list them. Neither Welsh, nor Scottish nor Northern Ireland Ministers are included in the list of consultees. However, bearing in mind that retained EU case law is comprehensive in its definition, and that both the devolved legislatures and the devolved Governments have made legislation and acted on the basis of current law within the devolved fields, it seems obvious that they should be consulted if there is to be a change in the scope of the courts and a new test is to be laid down. They are vitally affected by it, and they should not be left out. The amendment is simple, asking that the role of the devolved Assemblies and Administrations be recognised. I understand that when this clause first appeared in the Bill, there had been no prior discussion with Welsh Ministers about this issue. I hope that the Government will look at it and give the closest possible attention to this amendment.
On Clause 38 and Amendment 45, as the report of the Constitution Committee states in welcoming this clause’s recognising the sovereignty of Parliament, the clause has no legal effect. It may therefore be surprising that I wish to take up time on a clause that has no legal effect. However, the Explanatory Memorandum also makes it clear that there is no material difference to the position of Parliament. Yet I agree that there are circumstances in which it is useful to remind people of the basics of our constitution, and this is no exception.
However, this amendment has been tabled because if there is to be such a reminder—the clause can have no purpose other than that—it should be recognised that since 1998 there has been a significant change to the constitution and in particular to the devolved schemes of administration. In failing to refer to the Sewel convention, which provides that Parliament will not normally legislate without the agreement of the National Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Government of Northern Ireland in relation to devolved matters, the clause does not put in place the correct balance of our constitution as it now moves forward. The amendment has been tabled to provide such a reference. It would ensure that for the future—as I hope would be the case in any event—the importance of the devolution settlement is critical to how the union is preserved as we go forward to our life outside the European Union. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has made an obviously reasonable and appropriate case for the propriety of the Government consulting with Ministers in the devolved Assemblies. That is not only good politics, it is good manners, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord who will be replying on behalf of the Government will readily accept that that is appropriate. I hope, therefore, that he will be willing to accept Amendment 23.
Amendment 45 is an amendment to a clause that is in any case otiose, so I do not think it is necessary for the Government to accept it, but again I hope that the Minister will affirm that of course the Government will want to follow the usual conventions and established procedures for legislative consent.
My Lords, I wish to speak to three of the amendments in this group. Yesterday I spoke in support of Amendment 15, and those remarks are relevant to Amendment 18 so I will not repeat them. It is important to ensure that our concerns about the Bill are recognised. One is that, as currently written, the Bill can be interpreted as not respecting the union, which becomes extremely important constitutionally.
Amendment 23 relates to Clause 26 and the potential role of the courts, other than the Supreme Court, in the future. The difficulty arises in having due regard to the devolved Administrations, as my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd has outlined. Legislation that has already been passed by the Senedd, the Welsh Assembly Government, reflects European rulings. If those rulings are changed in the future, the Assembly will have to address the changes. The difficulty, of course, is that if it has not been consulted on all the changes to the way appeals can be made, it could find itself in an extremely difficult position.
This amendment, like the others that we have tabled, is therefore designed to prevent avoidable problems emerging in the future. I cannot see that anything in our amendments would undermine the Government’s ability to move forward with their withdrawal Bill, but they would make sure that the legislative powers already held by the Senedd and the Welsh Government are respected.
Our amendment to Clause 38 is necessary because, as written, it fails to refer to the Sewel convention and therefore risks undermining the devolution settlements. If the Government do not wish to accept the amendment, one could suggest another way forward by deleting the entire clause, although I suspect that they are less minded to do that than to insert something short to respect the devolved settlements.
I also signal my support for Amendment 29 in the group, because again it aims to safeguard the devolution settlements from unilateral amendment by Ministers of the Crown. Although the conduct of international negotiations is a reserved matter, which everyone respects, the amendment would ensure that the impact on the devolution settlements are recognised and would give the devolved institutions the responsibility to make arrangements to implement international agreements as they go forward.
Essentially, we are asking to be consulted and to be kept in the loop. We are not asking for a veto, but our amendments ask for the devolution settlement to be respected, as it works at the moment with an intact union.
My Lords, my name is also attached to Amendments 18, 23 and 45. I am very pleased to support the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay.
The issues at question are issues of trust between the devolved Governments and the Government of the United Kingdom. Nobody is arguing that the devolved Governments have power over international treaties—of course they do not; they are reserved powers. None the less, what will be undertaken in those treaties will almost certainly have a very direct effect on matters that are devolved, some of them fully, to the National Assembly for Wales, and likewise to Scotland and Northern Ireland in slightly different ways.
To that extent, there have been occasions when the UK Government have been well represented in negotiations in Brussels by Ministers from the Government of Wales. It is perfectly right that they should be there on matters such as the sheepmeat regime or when questions of smaller languages are debated. When such matters arise, as is likely, in the context of any ongoing treaties or new treaties that will emerge, it is vital that the confidence of the Welsh Government and the National Assembly, and likewise that of Scotland and Northern Ireland, is taken fully into account.
The real danger is that things happen by default. The UK Government, with all the good will in the world, might think that issues do not arise without having talked about them. There needs to be some system to avoid unnecessary tension and rows between the various Governments within the United Kingdom.
I did not participate in the debate last night, but I read with considerable interest the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank. He said:
“This debate has taken a turn that I had not anticipated—the notion that a power is now being granted to the Government to undo that which has been set before: if you like, the magisterium of the law which sets up the elements of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. That is not the purpose of this rule.”
He goes on to say that he would be happy to make a note available
“to all noble Lords who are interested in this, so they can see where we believe this power will be required”.—[Official Report, 14/1/20; col. 639.]
The point is that if the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, has recognised that there is a need for greater clarification than is provided in the Bill, surely with the Bill still going through Parliament there is an opportunity to table amendments, such as the ones proposed in this group, to safeguard the position. It is not enough to have a sentence in Hansard. That obviously helps to clarify the position, but there needs to be something more cast-iron than that.
This is not a party-political issue, it is a matter of getting means of sensible co-operation into the Bill. If the Government cannot accept the amendments now, I very much hope that between now and Report they will consider these issues and try to bring in some form of wording that gives an assurance in the Bill along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, suggested last night.
My Lords, these amendments are designed to cement the established position of the devolved Administrations in the new situation in which we will find ourselves.
Amendment 18 to Clause 22 relates to any amendment to the statutes establishing devolution. They can be amended by a Section 109 Order in Council as long as the devolved Administrations agree but, as the clause stands, it leads to a suspicion that the Government could take the power to change devolution settlements without the agreement of, for instance, the National Assembly of Wales. We need the Government to make it clear one way or the other that they do not intend to do this.
Amendment 23 to Clause 26 simply adds devolved Ministers to the list of those to be consulted before the Government bring forward regulations referred to in that clause. Amendment 45 to Clause 38 relates to the Sewel convention. It simply inserts the well-established principle that Parliament will not normally legislate on devolved matters without legislative consent from the National Assembly for Wales.
I want to spend a little longer on Amendment 29, which puts the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations on a statutory footing and requires representatives of devolved Administrations to be briefed regularly on future relationship negotiations. The history of the JMC as a whole has been chequered, to say the least. I have been privileged to see it from both sides: from the Welsh perspective as a Minister between 2000 and 2003 in a coalition in the National Assembly, and from 2011 to 2015 when I was a Minister in the Wales Office here.
In the early years, 2000 to 2003, I would describe the JMC as having been part of an old boys’ network. Labour was in power, in government, both here and in Cardiff, where it led the coalition. There was a dangerous lack of formality about the business we did. It was very good humoured but it did not have structure and was slightly erratic. It at least met regularly, if not frequently, but its behaviour was erratic. From 2010, I would characterise relationships as at the other end of the spectrum, with the coalition Government— the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives—here, the SNP in Scotland and Labour in Wales, as well as the complexity of Northern Ireland. I would say it was more of an armed standoff in those years. It provided an opportunity to have a well-scripted, very formal row with each other, with people coming out on to the steps of Downing Street to tell the world what they had said on their side of the argument. As a result, not surprisingly, it did not meet that frequently. Having observed the JMC in recent times, it does not seem to have got much better.
The devolved Administrations have drawn a lot of their strength and confidence from their vital EU links, which affect so much of the devolved work that is taken in those countries. Those links are now to be severed. As a Welsh Minister in the early years of this century, for instance, I represented the combined Governments of the UK at a European Council of Ministers; the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, referred to that kind of situation in his speech. I presented the agreed joint position of those Governments. It has given the devolved Administrations status and strength and is a very important part of their overall situation.
As we leave the EU, it is doubly important that the role of the devolved Administrations is fully recognised and enshrined in law, as this amendment attempts to do because it refers to the frequency of meetings, as well as to the establishment of the principle. As we go forward, it is vital that the devolved Administrations have the right to know the Government’s intentions which will affect them and their work. My experience of government here is that the relevance and importance of an issue to the devolved Administrations are very often overlooked. A Minister here is effectively a Minister for England. It is often forgotten that certain decisions have a real impact on Scotland and Wales.
I urge the Minister to accept these amendments. If that is not possible at the moment, I would urge him to bring back something that will reassure the devolved Administrations in these respects.
My Lords, your Lordships are being spared a long speech from me simply because the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has made it for me.
I want to focus on Amendment 29. When we were debating the first European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the irregularity and lack of efficiency of the JMC was referred to again and again. We identified exempted items from the provisions that would need to be set within a framework in order to try to establish an internal market for our country. We identified that, subsequent to the passing of that piece of legislation, the JMC would need to perform better to guarantee that what we were asking for would come to pass. That has not happened.
Amendment 29 seeks to tighten up on a resolution we made then and which we have had the chance to monitor since. If the proposals before us go through, a statutory basis, a serious performance and an impact assessement will be needed if we are to have the trusting relationship between the Administrations in these islands which will guarantee that the desires of the Government are implemented in an appropriate way. This is the shortened version of my speech. I know that your Lordships are rather sad at not getting it in full.
My Lords, I endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Griffiths and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on Amendment 29. Your Lordships will recall that it is nearly 23 years since the people of Wales and Scotland voted for devolution. It is almost 22 years since the people of Northern Ireland voted for the Good Friday agreement and the establishment of devolution there. Happily, last week we saw the restoration of the institutions of government and democracy in Northern Ireland.
The political landscape of our country has changed tremendously during the past two decades. Having been the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Wales, I am not convinced that Governments of either persuasion—nor the coalition— understood, in the course of those 20 years, what devolution was all about. Certainly, the relationships between the United Kingdom Government and those in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh could have been better. I am one of those old boys to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred. Back in 2003, we had Labour Governments in Scotland, Wales and England. It was a bit cosy, inevitably. Things changed after that. We never had a Labour Government, of course, in Northern Ireland.
The Joint Ministerial Committee, for which I held Cabinet responsibility from 2007 onwards, never really worked. It was a great idea, bringing together Ministers from all the different Administrations but it did not work as it should have done. It did not meet as frequently as it should have done. I am not convinced that even under the new designation of Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations it has been all that successful, but it has been a bit better than previous incarnations. Now is the chance because our constitution has changed dramatically, not just because of devolution but because of what we are debating today.
Our departure from the European Union and all that involves in constitutional matters has to be looked at in the context of devolution as well. I hope that the Minister will look very carefully at Clause 29 in particular and put when and how JMCs meet on a proper statutory footing. If JMCs do not work then the trust and the confidence between the three devolved Administrations—one now very new—and the United Kingdom Government will evaporate. A number of noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, have made the point that unless we get the devolution settlement post Brexit right, it will threaten the union. The Government talk about the precious union all the time but it can be threatened if we do not take the devolved Administrations seriously in their role within the United Kingdom. If this does not work then the movement for independence in Scotland will get even stronger and movement towards a united Ireland might actually happen in Northern Ireland. I do not want any of those things to happen. I am a unionist with a small “u”. The best way to prevent that and to restore strength in the union is to ensure that we respect the devolution settlement, and these amendments do precisely that.
My Lords, I bring a Scottish voice in support of the arguments that have been advanced in the amendments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and by other noble Lords who have spoken. These are important points, not only as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, has just said, for maintenance of the union but also for many practical reasons. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, no one disputes that the negotiation of an international treaty is a matter devolved to the United Kingdom Government. However, we have to recognise that much of the subject matter of many of these agreements will fall to the devolved Administrations to implement; it will be in areas of devolved competence. Therefore, it is important that there be proper engagement with the devolved Administrations in reaching these agreements, not only to ensure a community of interest within these islands but to give those with whom we are negotiating some reassurance that what they are negotiating will be implemented properly by the various devolved Administrations. If the people from the devolved Administrations are not present, something may be missing in the reassurances they are seeking.
In paragraph 114 of the report published yesterday by the Constitution Committee—of which I am a member—the committee reiterated what it said in its report last year on the parliamentary scrutiny of treaties:
“As part of its treaty-making after the UK leaves the European Union, the UK Government must engage effectively with the devolved institutions on treaties that involve areas of devolved competence … The UK Government will need to consult the devolved governments about their interests when opening negotiations, not just to respect the competences of those governments but also in acknowledgement of the important role devolved administrations may play in the implementation of new international obligations”.
In paragraph 115, the Constitution Committee recommends that
“the Government set out before the Bill’s report stage what its process for consultation and engagement with Parliament and with the devolved authorities will be in respect of the future relationship negotiations with the European Union”.
Amendment 29 goes further than that and wants to put it in the Bill; that is probably worth while.
Some noble Lords will recall that, when the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations was established—I think, in the autumn of 2016—great commitments were made about the intention of the United Kingdom Government to engage at every step of the way in the negotiations to get a withdrawal agreement. Yet we know that, for many months, that Joint Ministerial Committee never even met. This is not the place to go into why it did not meet, but good intentions were not delivered on. We know that there were good intentions. In replying to the debate on the gracious Speech last Wednesday, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, said the following in response to a similar point that I and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, made then:
“the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, asked about the representation of the devolved Administrations in negotiations on our future relationship. We recognise the need for their close involvement in negotiations on our future relationship with the EU in order to deliver a satisfactory outcome”.—[Official Report, 8/1/20; col. 289.]
That was a statement of intent with which I could have no dispute, but we want more: we want how it will work in practice to be fleshed out. Given that the Joint Committee on EU Negotiations has not had a happy track record—it improved as time went on—many of us would feel more reassured if it was on the face of the Bill.
My Lords, the amendment would establish that it should meet, and some timescales are set down. My concern relates to good intentions. No one disputes the good intentions for the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations when established, but they were not carried through in practice. When the Minister comes to reply—I am not sure which Minister it will be—I am sure that we will be told of good intentions. We want to ensure that good intentions are delivered on.
My Lords, I support Amendment 18. It would be very much in the Government’s interest to buy the amendment; it is quite hard to see what arguments could be made in public against their doing so.
I want to speak briefly to Amendment 29, to which I have put my name. I have little to add to what was said on the subject by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—she knows much more about it than me. I disagree only with one thing that I think she said, which was that the JMC had tended to meet regularly but not frequently. It might have been better to say that it met rather irregularly and very infrequently.
I am pleased to be able to say that my text for this debate comes from a point made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, when he stressed the need for courtesy and respect in the handling of the devolved Administrations. I strongly agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness: things are getting very tense. I agree with the point made earlier in discussion on this group of amendments that the devolution settlement is in clear and present danger. As we approach the minutiae of this Bill, we need to have the broader picture in mind. Fine words have been said and undertakings given by successive Front-Bench spokesmen, but they are not perceived in Cardiff or in Edinburgh to have been delivered on. That is why it is a good idea to write into statute the role of the JMC.
That for me is the second-best option. The best option would be to include representatives of the devolved Administrations in the negotiating teams that go to Brussels when the subject for discussion is going to touch on the competence of the devolved Administrations. The battle over common frameworks will be very much easier if the devolved Administrations believe they have been involved in the substance of the negotiations.
I recall that when we first joined the European Union, long before I was born, the first representatives to discuss, for example, fisheries in Brussels were John Silkin accompanied by Bruce Millen and Willie Ross. It was frequently the Scots who spoke on fisheries in the Council, although the legal establishment from London was sitting alongside them. I see no difficulty of principle, and I hope the Government do not, in including the representative devolved Administrations in the negotiating team.
Realistically, I do not believe that the Government will do that, and I have to admit that, as a former negotiator myself, I see the arguments for a very cohesive delegation. If we do not include the devolved Administrations directly in the negotiation, we have to have a really reliable and perceived-as-genuine system for informing them of our objectives in the negotiation, and tell them how we are getting on.
I would not die a death for the precise language of Amendment 29, but it writes into the Bill the fact that the JMC shall have a real job to do in scrutinising what the Government intend to do, advising them on how to do it and hearing how they are getting on. I therefore support the amendment.
Many distinguished Lords have spoken on the amendments, and I agree with them all, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who is just leaving. It illustrates the lack of comprehension that there has been about how the British union state has changed, and how its pluralism has changed and become a more central feature.
I have had the great privilege of being on the Constitution Committee for the past four years, and this issue kept recurring. It is not a dispute or debate that has suddenly emerged; it came in Bill after Bill connected with constitutional relationships and with trade, yet somehow it was not resolved, mainly because the devolved Assemblies were being bypassed, often in a very hurtful way, leading to accusations of power grab and such statements.
The issues that have been mentioned include: reserved powers for the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Governments, an issue that has come several times and has not yet been dealt with properly; and the outcome of European legislation when it is transferred to this country, which has not been adequately dealt with either. We discussed this frequently on the Constitution Committee and wrote what I thought was a very important survey of intergovernmental relations. It seemed to have very little effect on ministerial thinking, or indeed on thinking about the nature and importance of devolution throughout our country.
In particular, there is the inadequacy of the Joint Ministerial Council, which is mentioned in Amendment 29. The JMC is an almost hopeless body that has staggered on for two decades with no clear membership, no clear times for convening, and very little effect in real intergovernmental consultation, so I very much hope, as everybody does, that the Government will feel able to accept these proposals. Otherwise, the effect could be disastrous. Our union is in grave danger. People refer primarily to Scotland, but in my experience discontent in Wales is certainly much stronger than it was. It would be tragic if inattention and carelessness led to our leaving not one important union, but two.
My Lords, following not just yesterday’s speeches, but those today from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, my noble friends Lord Howarth, Lord Griffiths, Lord Murphy and Lord Morgan, the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, from Wales, as well as welcome additions to our West Country debate from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, the Government should have heard by now that the devolved authorities and people close to them feel somewhat squeezed out of the Government’s handling of our withdrawal from the EU and our future relationship with it, and of how the Government plan to discuss, or not, with those representatives as we go forward. That was probably not helped by the response of the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, last night.
We particularly welcome Amendments 18, 23 and 45, accepting in particular that, if we really must have an albeit non-legally enforceable statement about the sovereignty of Parliament in the Bill, it surely has to be accompanied by at least an equivalent nod to the devolution settlements and the Sewel convention to safeguard the union, as my noble friend Lord Murphy emphasised.
Looking towards the future, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said earlier this week that devolved Governments have an interest in all the negotiations. It is not simply the bits that can be identified as within their competence, because how agriculture pans out will absolutely affect the future of those countries. So will other parts of trade.
Our Amendment 29 in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Kerr, seeks to achieve the input of the devolved authorities in the negotiations. As we have heard, it would place the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations on a statutory footing—something that we have urged on the Government since its formation in 2016. As my noble friend Lord Morgan reminded us, it has been pretty constantly discussed in the Constitution Committee. The amendment would ensure regular and frequent meetings of the JMC on EU Negotiations, which as we have heard, has at times been sidelined, especially when it was seen as a bit inconvenient. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said that it had a “chequered” history. As my noble friend, Lord Griffiths, reminded us, it was not used in the way intended when it was set up. Importantly—we have not heard this voice this morning—the amendment would also require the JMC to focus on the very unique challenges facing Northern Ireland, including the aspects discussed in your Lordships’ House last night.
The amendment also covers the relationship between the JMC—the Joint Ministerial Committee—and the new and, as we have heard, highly important UK/EU Joint Committee. For example, the Secretary of State would have to brief British members of the Joint Committee to make sure they knew what the JMC was discussing, so that discussions held with the devolved authorities were fed in to the UK negotiators. This is vital. The British members of the Joint Committee, who would, of course, be Ministers, would have to give regard to the views of the Joint Ministerial Committee, which brings together the devolved authorities. They would also have to bear in mind the requirement of the Northern Ireland protocol to facilitate trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
It is particularly important, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, said, to realise that, in addition to a general interest in all these negotiations, much of the implementation will fall to the devolved authorities. As any of us who have been involved in developing policy know, if you do not discuss beforehand how it is going to be implemented, the chances are that the policy will not work.
Given the importance of ensuring that Brexit works for all parts of the UK, including the devolved nations, and given the concerns of the devolved Administrations that they are being excluded from vital talks—as we have heard, an amendment which we will come to later about the authority of courts has been tabled without any consultation with them—we look forward to a rather more positive response from the Minister when he replies. If the response is really positive, it might help the Welsh Assembly to consider whether it wants to give its legislative consent to this Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments. The thread that binds together the amendments spoken to by the noble and learned Lord and other noble Lords is their entirely legitimate interest in the Government’s level of engagement with the devolved Administrations and the protection of the devolution settlements. Having listened also to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I fully understand that these amendments particularly reflect some of the concerns raised by colleagues in the Welsh Government. I hope I can reassure the Committee that these amendments are not necessary and the Government are fully committed to proper engagement with the devolved Administrations.
I turn first to Amendment 18. It is clear to me that the concern here is about the scope and breadth of the powers in this clause. I hope that I can address those concerns satisfactorily. I should add that the Government have also taken note of the report produced by our noble colleagues in the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in relation to the powers contained in this Bill.
I hope I am right in understanding that the noble and learned Lord is concerned that, without this amendment, the devolved authorities would be able to use the powers provided in Clause 22 to implement the protocol and, in doing so, would be able to amend the devolution statutes in those areas where they have such competence. However, I am afraid I have to resist this amendment because the restriction proposed by it risks preventing the United Kingdom fulfilling its international obligations, which stem from the Northern Ireland protocol. The noble and learned Lord will understand that we must be able to fulfil those obligations as a responsible player in the international system and as a close partner of our European neighbours. The particular problem with the amendment is that the proposed restriction would prevent the devolved authorities adopting certain decisions agreed between the UK and the EU in the Joint Committee, in relation to the operationalisation—if I may use such a word—of the protocol in areas of devolved competence. I must make it clear that that risk to the UK being able to fulfil its international obligations is unacceptable to the Government.
This amendment would have the effect of preventing amendments to the devolution statutes, even in situations where the devolved Administrations agreed to an exercise of the power in proposed new paragraph 11M(2) jointly with the UK Government. This restriction could therefore hinder the introduction of UK-wide legislation that has been agreed on by all four nations of the United Kingdom. The Government could not allow such a situation.
It is important for me to make it clear that the Government are committed to not unduly restricting devolved competence as a result of our departure from the EU. Indeed, the limits of devolved competence in relation to the use of the power contained in proposed new paragraph 11(M) are clearly laid out in the remainder of the clause. No doubt the noble and learned Lord will tell me if I have not addressed his concerns satisfactorily, but I hope I have and that, on reflection, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I turn now to Amendment 23, also in the name of the noble and learned Lord. This amendment would require a Minister of the UK Government to consult Ministers in the devolved Administrations before setting any regulations on which courts and tribunals may depart from retained EU case law. I listened carefully to the noble and learned Lord’s concerns and believe that I can offer him some reassurance.
The intention behind the clause is to give a power to make regulations to ensure that courts and tribunals across the UK are not inappropriately bound by retained EU case law after we have left the EU. It goes no further than that. We want to ensure that UK law is consistent and clear as we leave the EU legal order, but equally, we do not want to fossilise the law. We will do this in a sensible way, and the differences of opinion within the House on this important matter demonstrate the importance of taking the time to do this carefully and correctly, and in consultation with others.
The clause requires that Ministers must consult the senior judiciary across the UK before making any regulations. That is crucial to ensure that any guidance given to the courts is developed in a sensible manner. However, engagement on these regulations is not limited to the senior members of the judiciary. The clause also requires consultation of
“such other persons as the Minister … considers appropriate.”
Clearly, there is much interest and expertise in the devolved Administrations. I assure the Committee that we will work closely with them on this and always welcome input to ensure that the regulations work across the UK and are implemented properly—how could we do otherwise? I hope that that assurance is welcomed by the noble and learned Lord and he will feel able not to press the amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, for speaking to Amendment 29. I am glad to have the opportunity to set out how we will engage the devolved Administrations after we leave the EU. I want to give noble Lords a firm assurance: the Government are fully committed to working closely with the devolved Administrations in our preparations for the next phase of negotiations with the EU.
There are several formations of the Joint Ministerial Committee, and the devolved Administrations have been regularly invited to attend the EU exit operations Cabinet committee. Departments also have a wide range of structures in place to enable discussion and engagement across a number of areas, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs inter-ministerial group, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy energy and climate change quad. There continues to be extensive significant work between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations on common frameworks in a range of policy areas.
The mechanisms for dialogue and full engagement are already well established. This amendment, I am afraid, would place unhelpful restrictions on conversations in all these forums, including the JMC, which is underpinned by the memorandum of understanding agreed between the Administrations of the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Placing intergovernmental structures in statute would limit the capacity for discussion between all Governments to adapt to changes, particularly as circumstances evolve as we exit from the European Union.
Similarly, the amendment would also place obligations on the UK representatives to the Joint Committee. Since the arrangements for the Joint Committee are yet to be finalised with the EU, the amendment risks pre-empting those conversations and any decision on the future role of JMC Europe. I can only emphasise again that the Government fully recognise that the devolved Administrations have a strong interest in international policy-making, in so far as it impacts on matters that are devolved to each of them. The key here will be continued close engagement. That engagement to date has—contrary to some noble Lords’ pronouncements —been extensive and we mean to continue engaging in exactly that way. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter—in so far as she is acting on behalf of her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith —will feel able not to press that amendment.
I turn last, but certainly not least, to Amendment 45 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. I think it is crucial here to look at the devolution settlements and the distinction between reserved and devolved competencies. The Sewel convention has led to consistent, UK-wide legislation in a range of areas where this is beneficial to all legislatures. It has also freed up time for devolved Administrations, enabling them to adopt UK-wide legislation when expedient. The convention was later written into the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006, as the amendment states. However, this in no way limits parliamentary sovereignty. That fact is also explicit in the same devolution legislation. This position was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2017, which was clear that Sewel is a political convention and not justiciable.
The amendment suggests that the convention applies to the entering into and ratification of international treaties, such as the future relationship agreement. It does not. The entering into and ratification of treaties is a reserved matter. As a matter of law, under the devolution settlements, international relations are the responsibility of the UK Government and Parliament, which includes MPs representing all parts of the UK. However, that is not to say that the devolved Administrations do not have a direct interest in our future relationship with the EU. As I have made abundantly clear, of course they do, and we will draw on their knowledge and expertise to secure an agreement that works for the whole of the UK. As always, we will seek legislative consent for any related primary legislation, including that required to implement the agreement, in areas that are in the competence of the devolved legislatures. I do not believe that this amendment will facilitate this process any further and I therefore urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw it.
I am grateful to all noble Lords, who have spoken in this debate. It has underlined how important it is for the future that we look carefully at these devolution issues and, in particular—what I regret to say is my experience as well—address a lack of understanding of the significance of devolution as we go forward.
Things have improved from the first occasion when I had to talk to an official about laying out legislation slightly more carefully so that Wales’s position was clear. He told us, “Yes, they did that in agriculture Bills for sheep, so they could easily do it in other Bills for Wales”. Things are better than that, but maybe not better enough.
It is very important that we put in place the necessary assurances—preferably in legislation, but also by way of structure. Words are fine, but deeds are better. I hope that, by raising these points, we will show that we can proceed with respect for our changed constitutional position and that we in this House—and the Government as well—can do everything possible to reduce the risk of any split in the union. With regard to Wales, it is important that those who may wish to see the union not continue be given no further ammunition for their cause.
Three amendments stand in my name and in the names of other noble Lords. The issue in Amendment 18 arose last night in relation to Clause 21. At the conclusion of the debate, the Minister said he would produce a memorandum which would try to explain why restrictions could not be placed on these powers. I still do not understand why not. These are a perfectly proper means of changing the devolution settlement. If the Governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are agreeable, the Section 109 route—to take the example of Wales—will do so. I did not address this issue at any length because the better course is to await the memorandum which the Minister has promised to see how we might go forward.
On Amendment 23, I am very grateful for the assurance given and will consider that further. As to Amendment 45, the clause has no legal effect, but what is really important is that we try to show the people of Wales, of Scotland and of Ireland that things have changed. When we go forward as a United Kingdom, that is something that everyone, particularly those in London, should bear fully in mind. However, I am very grateful for all the speeches that have been made and in the light of the debate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
Clause 22 agreed.
Amendment 19 not moved.
Clause 23 agreed.
Amendment 20 not moved.
Clauses 24 and 25 agreed.
Clause 26: Interpretation of retained EU law and relevant separation agreement law
21: Clause 26, page 30, line 13, leave out paragraph (b)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove the power of Ministers by delegated legislation to decide which courts and tribunals should have power to depart from judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union and by reference to what test.
My Lords, I am moving Amendment 21 on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who apologises that he is in court. I look forward to the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, who has chaired our Constitution Committee’s proceedings on this issue. As the committee has pointed out, the clause that we are seeking to amend raises substantial constitutional concerns. I note that two former Lord Chief Justices are in the Chamber as well, so I look forward to an interesting debate.
After the end of the implementation period, the United Kingdom courts will still have to interpret a large body of retained European law. This necessarily will involve reference to the case law created by the Court of Justice of the European Union. This case law will continue to apply in our courts alongside any relevant domestic case law. However, in Section 6(5) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—as noble Lords will remember all too well—we have already legislated to give the Supreme Court and the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland the power to depart from retained EU case law, having applied the same test as they would have applied if they were departing from their own case law. The Government now want to give themselves the power by regulations to extend that ability to depart from established case law to other unspecified courts—which could under the terms of the Bill be any court in the land—to specify the extent to which, or the circumstances in which, the court is not to be bound by EU case law, and to substitute the Government’s view of what test should be applied by the court after consultation for the Supreme Court’s existing and well-established test.
A lot of questions are prompted by this. Why do the Government want to do these things at all? If there is a good reason, why is provision not set out in the Bill as the previous scope and previous test were clearly set out in the 2018 Act? What courts do the Government intend to extend the power to? On Monday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, said that
“there is no intention to extend the divergence from retained EU case law to every court and tribunal in the United Kingdom … We recognise the uncertainty that would be a consequence of such a move”.—[Official Report, 13/1/20; cols. 554-5.]
So what courts are intended: the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Court of Session, the sheriff court, the county court? How much uncertainty are Ministers willing to create and contemplate? What alternative test do they have in mind? The Minister needs to give us at least an illustration of what alternative test might be mandated on the courts through the proposed regulations.
I do not argue that ECJ case law should be kept alive longer than is necessary in our system, but the best way forward is surely for Parliament to update retained European law over time as domestic law and put in primary legislation any changes in the way courts deal with retained European law in the meantime. Leaving the clause in the Bill has serious constitutional and practical consequences. It allows the Executive to create and potentially circumscribe the discretion of the court, which, if it is going to be done, should be achieved by primary legislation. It can give Ministers a direct role through the making of the regulations in instructing courts to disregard the effects of CJEU case law. The extension of the disregard to more courts could lead to more potentially confusing and conflicting decisions on the effect of CJEU case law, giving rise to appeals which would have been unnecessary if the matter had been considered by the Supreme Court in the first place.
The existence of more courts which can depart from CJEU case law may encourage additional legislation. Lower courts are not bound by one another’s determinations, so differing conclusions could be reached on human rights protections arising from EU case law, a point stressed in representations I have received in support of the amendment from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The provisions in Clause 26 seem to have few friends. They replace a simple and straightforward process giving the Supreme Court and the High Court of Justiciary sole responsibility for departing from CJEU case law on the basis of a well-understood and well-established test.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord can give us a much clearer indication of what the Government are seeking to achieve and why they are doing it by regulation rather than including it in the Bill. I hope that we will hear a very full response from him. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a litigator over 30 years of European law issues for whom these paragraphs and the legal uncertainty they unleash bring the prospect of endless work and riches as yet undreamed of. None the less, I put my name to the amendments, which of course will do nothing to obstruct or delay the Brexit that will occur on 31 January.
At Second Reading, I described another clause of the Bill as “Henry VIII on steroids”, but even that description is hardly strong enough for new subsection (5A)(b). That would allow the Minister, by regulations, to decide the extent to which, and the circumstances in which, our courts are to consider themselves bound by the law of the land, whether in the form of retained EU case law or retained domestic case law that relates to it. If Parliament is asked to change retained EU law, we will debate it and no doubt find a way to do it. Taking back control of our laws is one of the principal points of Brexit and, for my part, I hope to play a constructive role in that process. But to stand by and see these law-changing powers given to Ministers is quite another matter.
European law, no less than our own, is contained to a significant extent in the judgments and interpretations of the courts—what in the domestic context we refer to as principles of common law. If Ministers were free to remove the binding force of principles that they did not like, they could selectively neuter the protections given by law to workers, consumers, disadvantaged groups and the environment. Such a power in the Executive to interfere with the law declared by the courts, including the courts of this country, has no precedent that I know of. It would also cause uncertainty with effect from now, because no one can predict which parts of retained EU law will be changed over the year ahead or how the structure of what remains will react when a load-bearing element is removed.
Alarming in a different way is new subsection (5A)(c), on which the noble Lord, Lord Beith, began his remarks. Courts could be licensed under this provision to make their own departures from retained EU case law on conditions that Ministers could specify. As Sir Bob Neill explained in the Commons, that is a recipe for uncertainty, confusion and opportunistic litigation on a grand scale.
The Minister will, I anticipate, encourage us not to worry, because senior judges must be consulted. But consultation means only that. The Government have the whip hand. The complex ramifications will not be exposed by argument as they would be in court and, if deference to the judges’ views could ever have been assumed, it certainly could not be now. I suggest that there would be situations in which the judges will not even feel able to offer an opinion.
Imagine the scene. The Minister summons the judges and informs them of his proposal to instruct them that in accordance with the clear will of the people—or at any rate of the Government—they are no longer to be bound by the settled interpretation of the precautionary principle in environmental cases or the principle of indirect discrimination in employment law. The judges would no doubt come back with such comments as might occur to them on the timing, the procedural implications and so on. But since such instructions would be lawfully issued, if this clause passes into the Bill, and would implement clear government policy, these serving judges could not pass substantive comment without being dragged into the policy sphere, which, contrary to the views of some, they are extremely anxious to avoid.
Secondly, the Minister will point out, quite correctly, that the power in question will sunset when the transition period ends. However, it is the power to make regulations that will sunset, not the application of those regulations after the transition period. So that reassurance is illusory.
Thirdly, perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, who is as shrewd as he is principled, will tacitly accept the overbreadth of these provisions but hint at their restrained future use. In that case, I would invite him to come back with a version consistent with those restraints. We are reasonable people and if his only concern is a possible bottleneck in the Supreme Court other solutions could be devised and have indeed been suggested to him.
To leave this extraordinary clause unamended would be, I suggest, a dereliction of duty. I hope that amendment will come from the Government. However, when the time comes and in the last resort, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said on Monday,
“we should not be intimidated from fulfilling our constitutional role of scrutiny and amendment”.—[Official Report, 13/1/20; col. 490.]
That is particularly so, I would add, on an issue that was not put to vote in the Commons, that has been the subject of strong comment from the Constitution Committee, that in no way jeopardises Brexit but that threatens the independence and good order of the courts.
My Lords, members of the Constitution Committee are very concerned about this suggestion in the legislation. The case was outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, who went into some detail, so I do not wish to repeat all that. I simply want to ask the Minister, first, whether it is the Government’s intention to use this new subsection (5A)(b), and, secondly, if they will not use it, why it is in the Bill. If they intend to use this provision, can the Minister please give us some examples of where that might be?
My Lords, I also serve on the Constitution Committee and share the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lady Taylor and the noble Lord, Lord Beith. The relationship between the Executive, the judiciary and the legislature is a matter of some current controversy. The Executive have been stunned by the judgment made in the Supreme Court in the autumn, and I suspect that in part we are seeing a somewhat petulant response to that circumstance.
At all events, what is proposed in this legislation is a gross intrusion by the Executive into the proper realm of the judiciary. The Executive complain that the judiciary has extended itself excessively into its role; we are now seeing a retaliation on a major scale. Whatever practical motivation otherwise that may have caused the Government to write new subsection (5A)(b) into this clause, it is a foolish initiative on the part of the Government.
This is territory in which the Government ought to walk delicately, like Agag. It sets an appalling precedent, and it intrudes into the proper role of Parliament, because it is not appropriate. Even if it were appropriate for Ministers to interfere at all in this realm of judicial discretion, it is not appropriate for Ministers to do it by regulation. Such decisions ought to be made by Parliament in primary law, ensuring that the sort of very important principles which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, has suggested might be interfered with by Ministers under the terms of this legislation cannot be dealt with in this kind of way.
My Lords, I am puzzled by some of the issues that have been raised by this amendment. First, only a year or two ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, then president, called for Parliament to tell our judges clearly how rulings of the CJEU are to be dealt with after Brexit. Apparently our noble and learned friend did not see any difficulty about that.
Secondly, to tell courts that they are not bound by something does not mean that they will not follow it. If they are not bound, they may well still choose to follow it if they think it is good law. There are indeed many instances where the Court of Justice of the European Union has not produced good law: for example, over the secret nature of MEPs' expenses, on genetically modified crops and on diplomatic immunity. This is not surprising, because it is a court very unlike our own type of court. Its judges are nominated by sending countries for six years—they have only a six-year tenure. They have enormous salaries and expenses, and I am sure that they are reluctant to lose them after six years, and anxious to be renominated.
There are of course no dissenting judgments. Many of the so-called judges are not judges at all. They have been professors—obviously, I have great admiration for professors—and civil servants, with of course the exception of the British judge. So I am a little sceptical about this court. I think people sometimes confuse it with the European Court of Human Rights. We hear much talk that, if we depart from the rulings of the CJEU, our human rights will be affected. That is not the issue today.
I ask those who put forward this amendment what they mean, or envisage, by binding and not following, and why they think it would be better for citizens to have to go all the way to to the Supreme Court, with all the delay and expense—and lots of nice jobs for lawyers—that will be involved if you can only get a diversion from EU law by going all the way to the Supreme Court.
My Lords, although I am one of the few legal Cross-Benchers who has not been Lord Chief Justice, I too want to say a few words in support of these amendments.
I wonder whether my noble friend Lady Deech has recognised the precise area that we are concerned with here, which is retained EU law: that is, decisions of the European Court of Justice pre the end of the transition period, not decisions to come thereafter which can merely be taken account of and do not bind. So we are concerned with the actual decisions taken before we finally part ways.
Under our system, it is normally for Parliament, of course—and to a very limited extent for Ministers, by secondary legislation—to legislate: to declare what the law is, almost invariably for the future. Only rarely do we give law retrospective effect. But in 1966, as I am sure we all know, the practice statement in the House of Lords said for the first time that we could depart from what has otherwise been the sacrosanct principle of stare decisis—of precedent in the interests of certainty and finality—subject to a rigorous test. It is a rarely used power, now transferred to the Supreme Court and indeed, by a decision that I wrote in 2007, to the Privy Council. In certain limited circumstances, the courts can depart from their previous decisions.
The sort of consideration or test is whether the earlier ruling is now judged to have been plainly wrong, and how long it has stood. If it is recent, that is one thing, but if it has stood for a long time there may be many who have acted in reliance on it. Let us not forget that when the court exercises this power it does so by declaring what the position is and always has been. It therefore applies retrospectively and leads to cases where those affected by it, although they may run into time difficulties, may need leave to appeal, or to bring proceedings, out of time. They may then say, “That is now established as the law and therefore we would like to invoke it.”
In the ordinary way, we only use this power where the individual case leads to manifest injustice or is contrary to public policy, or where the established line of authority unduly restricts the development of the law. In a very interesting and powerful piece in the Spectator last week, one of the excellent contributors to the Policy Exchange, Professor Richard Ekins, quarrels even with Section 6(4) and (5) of the 2018 Act, which already provide in effect for the Supreme Court, and in certain circumstances the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland, to have the same powers to reverse EU-retained case law; in other words, not to follow what they would otherwise need to follow, the already decided ECJ decisions, in the same way as they can not follow existing domestic law.
Professor Ekins suggests that that
“would introduce unnecessary legal doubt and improperly empower the Court to make new law.”
I see that point, of course, although I would not deprive the Supreme Court of this power. However, it strongly reinforces what he already said in the article in support in effect of Amendment 21: that it would be absurd for some lesser body as yet unknown, and I rather suspect not quite thought out, to decide who should, at a lower level, be authorised by ministerial regulation to depart from retained EU case law. That would indeed be a recipe for chaos, confusion and uncertainty.
As to the other main point, Professor Ekins wants all the power to change EU case law to be either the power of the Minister to promote by way of primary legislation—which of us would quarrel with that; it is plainly the correct approach?—or for the Minister by secondary legislation. That is where the real problem lies. If the proposed change of legal direction from earlier rulings of the ECJ involves obvious fresh policy choices, such as the sort of things instanced by my noble friend Lord Anderson, it will affect some already established important legal principle and is plainly an issue for Parliament by primary legislation. Secondary legislation could be appropriate here only if it is demonstrably necessary either to work cogently with some clearly established new post-Brexit situation or something of that character.
That said, I share Professor Ekins’s objection to involving individual judicial officeholders, however senior and distinguished, in the process of ministerial law-making. This again chimes with what my noble friend Lord Anderson said. I support both the amendments. Let the Supreme Court, as under the 2018 Act, have this rare power that will be seldom exercised, but mostly it should be for primary legislation to depart from well-established legal principles.
My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, I too would welcome some clarity in this field, but I do not think that clarity can be provided by Ministers creating regulations behind the scenes and then serving them up to the House of Commons, which has not rejected any ministerial regulation since 1979, or this House, which has rejected them on minimal occasions, and by doing so in 2015 apparently caused a constitutional crisis. The issue is very simple. Of course there should be clarity and of course it should be provided by Parliament. We will now be considering what is domestic law. We call it EU case law, but the whole point of the process that we are going through is that it will become British EU-retained law. It will be British law and no longer EU law. It is that which will be interfered with.
I could spend some time going through the doctrines of precedents. They are very clear and simple. I remind the House that they have provided a way of achieving legal certainty. You can conduct your affairs with a degree of legal certainty. You can conduct your business, conduct your tax affairs and deal with foreigners outside this country. They tend to want to come to this country because the law is certain and clear. Yet simultaneously, and it is one of the great glories of our system, we have common law that goes back to 1189 that has enabled the law to develop, flourish and adapt as and when it became appropriate and necessary to do so. The greatest tribute to the common law is that it carries the day in all English-speaking countries. It is still used in India and Australia—adapted, of course, because that is one of its fundamental strengths, to conditions there.
I gave a lecture and talked to people who have suffered the horrendous problems of Bhopal, which not many of us will forget. There is a perfectly good legal principle—British, as it happens—called Rylands v Fletcher, which decided in Victorian times to create a new system. If you bring dangerous things on to your land, it is your job to keep them in, and if they get out, you are responsible. That was the common law working with absolute certainty to produce a new way of looking at the responsibilities of the landowner. So between them, the principles of legal certainty and the use of the common law enabled our law to develop.
Here, the Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Beith, reminded us, with his own personal experience, asserted on Monday by repeating that
“there is no intention on the part of the Government to extend the power to every court and tribunal in the land.”—[Official Report, 13/1/2020; col. 555.]
But that is the power that is being given by this legislation as it stands to a Minister. If that is not the Government’s intention, what on earth is the point of giving the power in the legislation to the Minister?
Where do we go? This permits the Minister to make regulations that would create jurisdiction in any court at any level to disapply retained EU case law, which is our law. Just think of the district judge sitting in, for example, Pontypool County Court, bound by all the decisions of all the courts above him or her by our own native law—Occupiers’ Liability Act, Unfair Contract Terms Act and even the Finance Act—who is then told, “Here is the EU case law. You are not bound by anyone’s decisions on that, so take a running jump at it.”
That in truth is what the poor judge will have to do. Think of his poor colleague in Penrith County Court, faced with a large organisation taking advantage of this new system by going to a small county court without the experience to respond to: “This bit of EU case law really troubles us. Your honour is not bound by it, so here are the reasons you should find for us.” To be fair, it could happen the other way around with a litigant who knows perfectly well that under case law he has no case, going to the same judge and saying, against a large business organisation, “They cannot rely on the case law any more, because you are not bound by it.” The same could happen in a tax tribunal or a VAT tribunal. All of this is quite unnecessary because, as the Minister has said, that is not the Government’s intention.
I would love to have a go at Henry VIII, whether he is filled with fat or with whatever drug to describe this condition today, but I am going to resist the temptation to do so, because I want the Government to realise that this is nothing more than a reasonable argument that needs to be addressed. All that is needed, without causing any delay to Brexit or creating a problem on 31 January, is for the Government to decide what arrangement should be put before Parliament in primary legislation to achieve the desired objective.
As an example, I did a bit of drafting last night so that they could say, “The Supreme Court and/or the Court of Appeal in England and Wales and the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland are not bound by retained EU case law”. Or the Government could say that those courts may depart from any retained EU case law if and when. It is not difficult, and I will offer myself to the Minister to sit down and talk it over with him if that would help. If Ministers are listening, perhaps that offer will be taken up. However, we have to address the principle, because the slightest incursion into judicial processes must be for Parliament, not for Ministers.
Perhaps I may make some brief observations, in part in support of the underlying purpose of what the Government have said they want to do, but in total support of this amendment. As I understand the position, the Government want courts other than the Supreme Court or the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland to have power not to follow decisions of the CJEU on retained law. That is a purpose I support. In the course of the debate on the withdrawal Bill, in particular the Report stage in April 2018, I asked the Government to think again in relation to allowing the Court of Appeal in England and Wales, the Inner House in Scotland and the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland to have this power.
I did so for two reasons. First, it would create a considerable bottleneck. Indeed, it could be said that the Supreme Court might be so busy that it would not have time to do anything else—a prospect which this Government might welcome. But that is not the point. The point is that we must look realistically at this issue, and there is much to be said for allowing the Courts of Appeal or the Inner House to be able to have the same power as the Supreme Court.
There is another reason. As I think experience has shown, certainly the experience of some judges who sit in the Supreme Court, it is extremely helpful to have a judgment of the lower court in those proceedings where issues that go straight to the Supreme Court sometimes turn out not to be quite so satisfactory. However, this is not a new point because it is one that I made some 20 months ago, and it really does seem to me that if the Government are proposing to go anywhere other than the Courts of Appeal or the Inner House, it will cause chaos. But if they intend to go only to the Courts of Appeal, this can be written into the Bill—it is very simple—and should be done now. I very much hope that that would be the way forward.
The second issue goes to the test. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, and I both pointed out in the debates on the withdrawal Act that using the powers under the practice statement to look at decisions of the CJEU and to decide whether they should be followed was not the right way forward. First, the test was never devised in those circumstances. Secondly, and much more worryingly, it would give the Supreme Court, or any other court that could depart, a huge power without any clear guidance, so there would always be the risk that the court could be put in the position of being perceived to be entering into the political field in making the decision to reverse or not to reverse. Therefore, there is substantial merit in putting a new test, so I support both of the underlying purposes. However, to allow a Minister to specify a test which the judges have to apply would be a power that any populist Government would love to have, but as far as I am aware, no populist Government, however powerful, have ever asked for this before. It runs entirely contrary to the rule of law and to the fundamental principle of the separation of powers.
It seems to me, therefore, that one of the points that arises is which of the courts can and should be dealt with now, and if there is to be a modification of the test, that needs to be debated. This may not be the right time to do so because, as was pointed out in the earlier debates, the way in which retained EU case law is approached must depend on whether the decision is made for close alignment with the EU and therefore the need to continue the case law, or whether a different way will be put forward. So it is difficult to set out the test now, but it should be done, and done only by Parliament. We cannot give Ministers the power to tell judges how to decide cases.
I do not particularly wish to speak first, but in view of the noble and learned Lord’s invitation, I will make my brief contribution. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, I have a fair amount of experience in this area of European law and the modification of existing judgments—I sat in the House of Lords when it set aside a previous judgment. It is extremely important that we consider the principle that has to lie behind this. The present situation is that EU retained law has been made part of the law of the United Kingdom unless and until it is modified by Parliament in due course. When passing the previous withdrawal Act, we placed a number of restrictions on that power for Ministers in various areas relating to human rights and so on.
From what I read in the newspapers as these things developed, my impression was that the Government were anxious that the power to modify or depart from EU judgments would be better given to a wider set of courts than the Supreme Court, and the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland on criminal matters, as had been done in the withdrawal Act. I can see that it may be part of overall policy that it should be rather wider than the present law would permit. However, it is important that whatever method is used, it is one that will prevail across the whole of the United Kingdom. Therefore, to give the power to do this to, for example, the Inner House of the Court of Session, would have the effect that it would apply in Scotland but not in England and Wales directly, nor in Northern Ireland. There would be a degree of difficulty in that. That is why, in my view, this power should be in the Supreme Court. As we all know, when the Supreme Court gives a judgment, it is a judgment for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is important to emphasise that the name of the court is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
If it is desired to give the power to a wider section of the courts, the way to do so is to specify which courts they are. The example given by my noble and learned friend is one possibility, but it is for the Government to decide how wide they wish to be. However, it is important that the courts should not have the power to ultimately decide; it should be required to refer the matter to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can modify the burden that that would involve by a lead process, leaving it free to dismiss a case where it was thought there was nothing in it. One possible line is for the lower court to give a judgment which might ultimately help the Supreme Court, but I do not know whether that would always be necessary. The important thing is that any court that has this power would have it only as a way of referring the matter to the Supreme Court.
I was thinking of putting forward an amendment to this effect, but I thought it probably better to leave it until we have had a chance to discuss it. I have reached the conclusion that, as a practical matter, if we in this House can persuade the Government to change, it is likely to be effective; whereas if we do not persuade the Government to change, it may not be effective, with results that we may not altogether approve of. My main effort in this is to try to persuade the Government that a system along the lines I have proposed would be perfectly acceptable and workable, and would embrace all the courts that it needs to embrace.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for preceding me because he is in a unique position to give advice to the House on this issue. I intervene only to add to what has already been said because I want to stress the importance of the issue. There is an old saying that hard cases can make bad law. This may be a hard situation for the Government but they are in danger of making very bad law indeed. Why they are in danger and why they would be wise to think very carefully again before they ask for this to be implemented is apparent from the careful steps that were taken back in 2005 when I was still one of the chief justices—to whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, referred—who are present before your Lordships.
At that time, changes were being made which went to the root of the constitution, and the courts were concerned that they could be severely damaging to our unwritten constitution. As a consequence, the then Lord Chancellor and I—then Lord Chief Justice—came together to make a concordat to try to deal with those difficulties. It was recognised that one of the underlying principles of our common law and constitution was the separation of powers, and what was being done in 2005—which affected the position of the Lord Chancellor in relation to the courts—was trespassing on the principles that had existed hitherto. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, was well aware of these principles when he was Lord Chancellor and a member of the Government. The role that the Lord Chancellor played at that time was to ensure that the important balance—which explained how we managed to continue without a written constitution—succeeded, which it did remarkably well.
As I see the situation, what my noble and learned friends and my noble friend Lord Anderson have been saying to your Lordships is that this proposes a change in our law that would undermine the proper observation of the rule of law in a most critical way. I suggest that for this House to allow that to happen without protesting in the clearest way would be very undesirable indeed. I feel confident that if the Government look at this matter again and bear in mind the speeches made to this House today, they will see how it can be dealt with. However important Brexit is, it must not be allowed to create a precedent that could be followed hereafter, as has been suggested, which would damage our situation.
I hope we will always be able to continue in this country without a written constitution. However, if we let what is proposed go through without saying it should be amended, we will create a situation where that will not be possible. We should pause before doing so.
My Lords, I have no legal training, unlike many of the eminent lawyers who have spoken this morning. I have occasionally found myself in court, but mainly as a litigant against the Met Police and the Government, although occasionally as a defendant, but I was obviously always innocent.
As I have no legal training, perhaps I can be seen as somebody who represents some of the majority of the people in the UK who have no legal training and who perhaps will not understand what is happening here today, because quite honestly it is an aberration and something that we all have to resist. I very much hope that this Government can see that they have a fight on their hands, because if this clause gives any insight into government thinking it is quite chilling and quite upsetting, as it is contrary to everything that Britain stands for.
Our overconfident Government want to completely redraw the checks and balances in our constitution so that Ministers can opt out of legal precedent at will. Ministers are seeking power to disapply EU case law as though their existing Henry VIII powers are not enough. No good justification has been given, and no sensible restrictions have been put in place so that these powers are used only when strictly necessary. This clause will create a wild west of legal uncertainty, where no one can really be sure what the words “contained in retained EU law” actually mean, until even the most basic issues are litigated on. It is a scorched earth policy and totally inappropriate for our legal system.
Of course, these absurd powers will also be particularly harmful for the environment and our natural world, since so much of our environmental legislation comes from the European Union. The UK Government have a terrible track record of getting into trouble with the European courts for things like our air pollution epidemic and the amount of raw sewage in our rivers. It is almost no wonder that the Government would like this magic wand to take away EU case law. But what is convenient for our Government would be disastrous for our environment, which is why my noble friend, who cannot be here in the Chamber at the moment, and I so strongly support these amendments. I hope that the many clear, sensible and legal arguments put forward by so many noble and learned Lords today will encourage the Government to rethink this.
My Lords, I too am not a lawyer, and I will not even attempt to add to the legal arguments, which have been so well set out by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Woolf, Lord Judge, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, as well as by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and others, as to why any decision on the interpretation of retained EU law should be taken at Supreme Court level, as envisaged in the 2018 Act, and why ministerial regulations are simply not appropriate in this matter.
I will say three things. One is that it is a really bad way to make law suddenly, with such a clause, with no consultation either with the judiciary—if this was the consultation that has happened today, I think we can take it as, “No thanks”—or, indeed, with the devolved nations, which we discussed earlier. I will answer the question put by my noble friend Lady Taylor about what the Government have in mind. At a briefing, it was very clear that they already had something in mind, a sunset clause at the end of this year, and my answer is simply that there is something that is not oven-ready at the moment that is waiting to come in. There is a closed envelope somewhere, and it is appropriate that we should be told what exactly is in it, so perhaps we could hear about that later.
Secondly, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has said, Clause 26 could result in the divergence of approach within and between the jurisdictions of the UK on matters where a common approach is essential: things that are fundamental to our UK-wide single market. On Monday, the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, recalled that for 40 years, EU legislation
“ensured that there was a large amount of similarity and coherence in how these laws were interpreted in the various parts of the United Kingdom. The question that arises now is: will we require to maintain that level of coherence in order to operate as a single national economy? This will be particularly true for food, farming, fishing … in Scotland and … the devolved Administrations.”—[Official Report, 14/1/20; cols. 530-1.]
Harking back to the earlier discussion about the all-United Kingdom economy, this seems a crucial issue. Allowing lower, non-UK-wide courts to interpret the regulations that the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, mentioned, environmental matters, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, or VAT or duties, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, mentioned, could open a wide door to divergence on issues within our own single market.
Thirdly, there is obviously a fear that this provision risks undermining workers’ rights, given that the political declaration makes no mention of the rights previously protected by the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and its key principles, which have found their way into EU case law. Employees in the UK benefit from the ECJ’s sometimes more generous interpretation of employment rights, such as the right to paid holidays, the requirement for employers to keep records of hours worked to comply with the working time directive, and the ruling as to whether overtime is factored into holiday pay. These have been essential and are now part of UK law—of course via case law. Without a guarantee to uphold the body of case law on workers’ rights, the Prime Minister’s commitment to protect our employee rights after Brexit will sound more hollow than any chimes of Big Ben, whether on 31 January or any other day.
Clause 26, which has been dropped in with no rationale, prior debate, consultation or Green Paper, diminishes the Bill while introducing uncertainty into our laws. It has no place here. We will seek to remove it, although, as other noble Lords have said and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, urged, it would be much better if the Government were to do this.
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Beith, for moving the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I will seek to offer some explanation and reassurance with regard to the clause in question.
As has been noted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, we are concerned here with retained EU law. For clarity, Clause 26 draws a distinction between retained EU law and relevant separation agreement law, which is applicable as a consequence of the withdrawal agreement and is untouched by any of these proposals, given our international law obligations. Retained EU law will form part of the law of the United Kingdom. It is then a question of how we approach the interpretation and application of that law, which, in turn, takes us to the question of precedent and the binding force—at present—of decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union in this context.
Provision has already been made, pursuant to Section 6(5) of the 2018 Act, to confer upon the United Kingdom Supreme Court the power to depart from previous decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union. The idea that one can depart from such a body of case law is hardly novel. It has been a feature of common law since at least the 1960s, when the judicial committee of the House of Lords expressed its intention to depart from previous case law as and when it felt it was necessary to do so. Therefore, we are not, as it were, moving into novel territory in this context.
The intention behind this clause is to give a power to make regulations to ensure that the United Kingdom courts are not inappropriately bound by retained EU case law as part of the body of United Kingdom law after we have left the European Union. It goes no further than that. These courts may choose to follow that case law, but the point is to ensure that they are not bound to do so in circumstances where they form a view that it would be inappropriate to the development of UK law for them to do so.
The Government are sensible in the manner in which they will seek to exercise the regulatory power. The Bill requires that Ministers must consult the senior judiciary across the whole of the United Kingdom before making any regulations, and indeed may consult other appropriate persons, and any regulations will be laid before Parliament under the affirmative procedure. Those safeguards are clearly in place.
We want to ensure that United Kingdom law after we leave is consistent and clear. The power will be employed in a way that is consistent with our own constitutional norms and traditions: judicial independence, the doctrine of precedent and the separation of powers. Any regulations will respect these long-established principles but will also allow that retained EU case law is not the sole preserve of the court of final appeal, be it the United Kingdom Supreme Court or, in the context of criminal matters, the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland.
The Minister says that this will be done under the affirmative procedure. Should that come here, we have always had the right to negate such an order. However, should this House do that, given the advice it has had, it would not be challenged as a constitutional outrage but would be a proper use of this House’s power.
It would always be a proper use of this House’s power, albeit that there are constitutional norms that apply. However, it is not just this House; the House of Commons would also have the opportunity to address the terms of any regulations. I have no doubt that, having regard to our constitutional norms, this House would have regard to the determination of the House of Commons on that point, but would not be absolutely bound by it. I fully accept that.
The Minister has just said that this would improve consistency. How can it improve consistency in the interpretation of law if you potentially have a proliferation of lower courts that can all reach different judgments? The import of the objections made in the last hour is precisely that having just the Supreme Court, and the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland, is much more a recipe for consistency than what the Government are planning.
That is one view as to how we might achieve consistency. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, will have noted from the contributions made by a number of noble Lords and noble and learned Lords—in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern—there are diverse views as to how this could be achieved.
For example, one view is that the power should rest only with the Supreme Court and the High Court of Justiciary but that there should be a reference process. Another view is that the power should be conferred upon the Court of Appeal, a lower court, or the Inner House in Scotland, because that would assist the Supreme Court as and when it came to consider the matter, and speed up the whole process of determining the issue. There are diverse views, as is reflected in the report of the Constitution Committee, as to how this could best be achieved. That is a very compelling reason for taking this regulatory-making power in order that, with the appropriate consultation, we can come to a suitable consensus as to how this is best done in the future. We can then allow for flexibility.
I stress that if, for example, we left the power purely in the hands of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, that might assist in consistency of decision-making—I will come back to the question of precedent in a moment—but it would put immense pressure on the Supreme Court itself and potentially create significant delays for litigants. Given that, it would not be a recipe for certainty; rather, it would be a recipe for uncertainty.
As I say, there are diverse views on how we can best achieve the result that we are all seeking. That is why it is appropriate that we should pause, take the matter forward by way of regulation, consult with the appropriate parties and then determine the best means of doing this. That will have to be resolved before the end of the implementation period.
At the end of the day, the power can be used only to determine which courts can depart from retained EU case law, the circumstances where they may do so and what test may be applied in doing so. It will not be used to set out how the courts are to interpret retained EU case law, because that is a matter for the independent judiciary, and it will not determine that courts may not follow established EU case law.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, made a number of points about unleashing uncertainty. With the greatest respect, Section 6 of the existing 2018 Act already provides that the Supreme Court may depart from established EU case law, although it may take significant time before it comes to address a particular question in a particular case. There is, therefore, what he referred to as “uncertainty with effect from now” if we proceed purely on the basis of Section 6.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, alluded to the issue of precedent and the certainty it brings to the law of the United Kingdom, and he cited the case of Rylands v Fletcher. I recall that as long ago as 1985, in the case of RHM Bakeries v Strathclyde Regional Council, the late Lord Fraser of Tullybelton pointed out that Rylands v Fletcher was not the law of Scotland and he went on to express a judgment that said that it was not the law of England. The point is that with diverse jurisdictions and legal systems within the United Kingdom, there is already room for different sets of precedent and different applications of the law, and we simply have to take account of that. Precedent is a very important aspect of the common law, but it does not bring about uniformity. We have a flexible legal system in Scotland, England and Wales and indeed in Northern Ireland, and we can accommodate the sort of proposal that is being brought forward here in the context of this regulation-making power.
As the noble Lord is aware, there is a level of courts, for example the Sheriff’s Court in Scotland, which is not bound by each other’s judgments, and therefore at that level one could arrive at inconsistency of decision-making, and we are conscious of that. The question is where we should best place the determination, and the whole point of this clause is to allow for the flexibility that is required, upon consultation with the appropriate parties, to determine how we can best achieve the outcome that everyone seeks. I am not in a position to say that it will be just the Supreme Court, as it is under Section 6, or to say that it will be just the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. However, one can see a rationale behind the approaches, both of which have been supported by various noble and learned Lords in the course of this debate. What we want to be able to do is to resolve that debate and achieve a consensus that will bring about the best result for the law of the United Kingdom, given its different legal systems. What we are seeking in the end is certainty for those who seek to litigate in our courts, and we would achieve that by coming to a consensus on how we should look at EU case law going forward.
I cannot accept the amendment and at this time I would urge the noble Lord to withdraw it.
No. What is ready to go is a consultation process. That is why we have not reached a conclusion. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, asked two questions, the first of which was, “Are the Government going to use this power?” We are going to use it in order to consult with appropriate parties. May I give examples? Examples have been given by noble and learned Lords. One example is a reference system to the Supreme Court. Another example is to extend this power to the Court of Appeal. That is what we want to determine by virtue of the consultation process we wish to take forward.
Is the Minister saying that when the consultation goes out, it will in effect be saying, “Give us a clue as to what you think makes best sense because we haven’t the faintest idea ourselves”? Are the Government going to express no thoughts about what might be preferable? Have they had no thoughts? Have they not thought about it before now? In every other aspect of Brexit, the Government have clear, dogmatic, unwavering thoughts. On this single one, they appear to have no thoughts at all. Is that not strange?
My Lords, this Government are not dogmatic—the noble Lord is quite wrong about that. Let us be clear: there is a starting point. If I can refer the noble Lord back to Section 6(5) of the 2018 Act, he will see that the starting point is already enacted. However, we want to find a way forward that is more effective and appropriate, and that is the purpose of the consultation process that is allowed for in the clause.
It is not a question of having policy areas in mind. We want to take forward a consultation process that will enable us to arrive at an appropriate conclusion as to how we should look at EU case law as a part of retained EU law after the implementation period has expired.
My Lords, I understand that the first part of the amendment may be reasonably accommodated within the answer given to the previous question about separation of powers. I cannot see how the second part can be accommodated—formulating the question the court has to decide in deciding whether the previous decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union should be followed.
My Lords, given that the existing law has now been in place since 2018 and all that time could have been used for this consultation, why has this suddenly gone in now with the power to make changes by ministerial decision? If it was not felt at the time that the 2018 position was correct, why has this consultation—which could take place without an Act of Parliament—not already taken place?
My Lords, may I just be clear? When in future the High Court, say, is given this power to exercise what currently under the practice direction is only for the Supreme Court, will it not merely be saying that we will not follow this precedent from the European Court of Justice, but declaring retrospectively that it was wrong all the time? Or will it be saying in this particular case that we are not going to follow that principle but in all other cases—cases pending, appeals and so forth—we will? In other words, will there be the retrospectivity we now have under the practice direction, with the court declaring what the law in truth is and saying it was wrongly understood before; or is it merely to be, as legislation has it, that this will be the law in future—we are changing it?
That matter will have to be addressed in the context of the regulations that are to be made, but those are the two options available. You can either proceed upon the basis that has pertained since the 1960s, which is, as we have stated, the law as it has always been, or say that the law is about to change. I make the point again that what will be provided for is the circumstances in which a court is not bound by EU case law. It will not be a circumstance in which they are told they are not allowed to follow EU case law; it will be open to them to do so if they wish.
My Lords, I found that a very disappointing response from the Minister, for whom I have great respect. It did not answer the question of which courts would now be part of the process and added to the list; it did not answer the question of what test the Government envisage being introduced through the process; and it did not answer the question of why this is not included in the Bill. The attempt to use the regulation process as an ex post facto defence of the fact that the Government have not come up with a policy yet, but would quite like to talk to some of us about what it might be in the future so that it can be put in regulations, is wholly unconvincing.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, pointed out, he was talking to the Government about this 20 months ago. There has been plenty of time to come up with a policy in the interim and not leave us in this situation where we are told, “It’ll be alright, we will bring in some regulations and discuss them with you all; all your concerns will be accommodated”. I do not think that they have been accommodated at all.
I welcome the intervention from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. As so often on these occasions, he pointed out that with a bit more work, maybe we could get somewhere and achieve something that is consistent with the Government’s intentions but meets people’s concerns.
There are times when Ministers have to recognise the level of feeling and concern which has arisen from significant quarters in the course of Committee proceedings. This has been a remarkable debate and, in the proceedings so far on the Bill, no other debate has brought out such intensity of feeling and concern, particularly from people with significant experience to contribute to the discussion. Ministers have to recognise this. We talk about consultation, and I think that some consultation is required between now and Report.
Certainly, we will want to reflect on what the Minister said on the possibilities—I was encouraged by the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay —and how we can reconcile what the Government are talking about with the need for some degree of certainty around how the law is to be administered in future. We are certainly not there yet. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 21 withdrawn.
Amendments 22 and 23 not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.