Report (2nd Day) (Continued)
Debate on Amendment 18 resumed.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke before lunch. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach have said, the British public rightly support our need to help the vulnerable children who most require our refuge. Parliament and Government feel this too. No one group or party has a monopoly on humanitarianism.
I must first correct some statements that noble Lords made this morning. The first was by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, who said that if it were not for the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, the Government would not have done anything. I will outline why that is not the case—without, of course, diminishing the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, over the years. As my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom pointed out this morning, our record over the last 10 years clearly demonstrates that the Government are committed to protecting vulnerable children.
I reiterate our proud record, much of which goes back before the 2018 Act. More than 41,000 children have been granted protection in the UK since 2010, most of them under obligations through the refugee convention and wider commitment to resettlement, rather than through EU structures. More than 5,000 unaccompanied children are being cared for in England alone—a 146% increase since 2014—and we received more than 3,000 asylum claims from unaccompanied children in 2018. That, as my noble friend Lord Hamilton also pointed out, was the third-highest intake of any EU member state, and accounts for 15% of all asylum claims from unaccompanied children across the EU. There is also our commitment to resettle 5,000 people from the wider region in the next year alone.
Our refugee family reunion Immigration Rules provide an existing route for children to join refugee family members granted protection in the UK, with more than 27,000 family reunion visas issued over the last five years. Three thousand were issued to children, enabling them to reunite with family members under this route, in the last year alone.
The second point I must correct is what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—that in the end we agreed to “let in” only 480 children, rather than 3,500, as demanded by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in his previous amendment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, might be confusing our obligations under Section 67 with the clause that the amendment before us would delete, which considers only unaccompanied asylum-seeking children family reunion, on which I hope that I have demonstrated our commitment over the years. I reiterate that that policy, in relation to UASC family reunion, has not changed.
This Government were elected on a manifesto which includes a commitment to
“continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution”.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, might be dancing on the head of a pin—
If noble Lords will hear me through—when he says that it excludes children. I suggest that if that were challenged in court, the court might come to a different view.
Furthermore, the UK will continue to be bound by the Dublin regulation during the implementation period, which means that unaccompanied children in the EU and the UK will continue to be able to reunite with family members during 2020. We will continue to process family reunion cases referred before the end of the implementation period.
Our record reflects the unique importance of protecting unaccompanied children and preserving the principle of family reunion, and that policy has not changed. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay provided some clarity on the effect of both Clause 37 and Section 17 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Section 17 does not grant family reunion rights to unaccompanied children but concerns only negotiations on this matter, although I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, expressed disgust at the notion of negotiating. As per the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, which became Section 17, the Government remain committed to seeking a reciprocal agreement for the family reunion of unaccompanied children seeking international protection in either the EU or the UK—that is, to ensure that these vulnerable children can reunite with family members in the UK or the EU.
Clause 37 concerns only the removal of the statutory duty to negotiate an agreement on family reunion for unaccompanied children who have applied for international protection in an EU member state and who have family in the UK, and vice versa. This debate is not on wider issues relating to refugees, asylum or family unity. Indeed, the Home Secretary wrote to the European Commission on 22 October, as I outlined in Committee, to commence negotiations on this issue, seeking to negotiate, as Section 17 set out. I assure noble Lords that the Government are intent on pursuing an agreement no less than that which we would have pursued under the original Section 17, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, posited earlier, although I confirm that I am unable to share the letter.
However, a statutory negotiating objective in primary legislation is not necessary nor the constitutional norm. We are restoring the traditional division of competences between Parliament and Government when it comes to negotiations, and similar changes have been made to negotiating obligations across the Bill. Furthermore, rather than removing Section 17, we have gone beyond the original amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and provided a statutory guarantee that the Government will provide a statement of policy within two months of the withdrawal agreement Bill’s passage into law. This demonstrates our commitment to report in a timely manner and guarantees Parliament the opportunity to provide scrutiny. As I have said, we have already commenced negotiations. We will continue to deliver this negotiating commitment while removing an unnecessary statutory negotiating obligation, restoring those traditional divisions of competencies and going above and beyond to provide Parliament with an additional opportunity for scrutiny with Clause 37.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the point about best interests. There is no intended or actual legal difference between the phrasing about how and when the best interests of the child should be considered for child family reunion transfers from the UK to the EU and vice versa. Both in the original Section 17 and in Section 17 as amended by Clause 37, there will be a consideration of whether it is in the best interests of the child to transfer from the EU to the UK in order to reunite with a family member, and vice versa. Neither Section 17 nor Clause 37 ever intended to consider whether it was in the child’s best interests to transfer to or from the UK separately from the consideration of whether it was in their best interests to join a family member. In addition to that, our existing statutory obligation in Section 55—
The noble Baroness makes a characteristically careful and conscientious speech—I learned a lot and for that I am very grateful. Could she just tell us why Clause 37 is in this Bill?
As I explained in Committee, Clause 37 is in this Bill because the Government wished to reiterate their commitment. It is similar in almost every way to Section 17, except that it does not instruct the Government to do something—it merely states the Government’s intention to do something.
With respect, it waters down that commitment by making a completely different commitment to make a Statement to the House rather than seek to negotiate a deal in Brussels.
That is correct. If the noble Lord has finished his intervention, I ask noble Lords to reconsider their intention to divide the House because I hope that I have provided the clarity necessary.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for at least having stated, again, the Government’s position, but I still do not understand it. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, explains why it was difficult to follow. For all the time we spent on it, it is not clear to me or many noble Lords, including on the Government Benches, why the Government are doing what they are doing. Part of the Minister’s speech could have ended up with her saying yes, and that she supported the amendment—part of it led to that conclusion. Somehow, she changed course and said no. She talked about an unnecessary statutory obligation. By that, I believe she means the provision in the 2018 Act—an obligation accepted by the Government in the Commons after we passed it in this House. I do not know why it was okay then but unnecessary today; that has not been explained.
Above all, it seems to me that there is a very clear proposition on family reunion: unaccompanied child refugees should be able to join family members here. All we ask is for the Government to take that and negotiate on that basis with the EU. We cannot predict the outcome; it could not be more modest. All we are saying is, “Please do it”. But the converse, by the Government saying, “We are not going to do it”, sends a very difficult signal. Some people have called the Government mean and nasty. If the Government want to disprove that accusation, surely they should accept this amendment. It is very simple: we do that and then we are in line with what we decided in 2016.
Does the Government’s track record on admitting child refugees completely rule out the idea that they have been mean and nasty?
I do not think so, partly because the majority of the 41,000 children that the Minister referred to came to this country by illegal means because there were no legal means for them. We estimate that about 90% of them came on the back of lorries, in dinghies and so on. Surely that is the very thing we wish to discourage, so I am not convinced by that. I welcome what the Government have done for refugees of course, but we are talking about what we will do in the future. I regret that the signal the Government are sending by this is a very negative one. It is not a humanitarian signal and there is no downside for the Government if they accept the amendment; I do not understand what the problem is. Nobody has yet explained why the world will come to an end or something. It seems fairly straightforward: the House decided in 2018 on a simple humanitarian proposition. The Government have tried to find a way of arguing against that. I am sorry, but it has not persuaded me and I hope it has not persuaded the House. I would like to test the opinion of the House.
21 January 2020
Division on Amendment 18
Amendment 18 agreed.View Details
19: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Non-regression of EU-derived rights and protections
After section 16 (maintenance of environmental principles etc.) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 insert—16A Non-regression in relation to protected matters(1) Any action taken by or on behalf of a Minister of the Crown under—(a) this Act, or(b) any other enactment, for the purposes of or in connection with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU,is unlawful if it is intended to have, or in practice is reasonably likely to have, a regressive effect in relation to the protected matters.(2) A public authority exercising a function in respect of a protected matter must not exercise that function in a way that is intended to have, or is reasonably likely to have, a regressive effect.(3) Regulations may not be made under this Act if they are intended to have, or are reasonably likely to have, a regressive effect.(4) The protected matters are—(a) animal welfare,(b) biodiversity and the environment,(c) chemical safety,(d) data protection,(e) disability access,(f) employment and social rights,(g) food safety,(h) public health, and (i) transport safety.(5) For the purposes of this section an effect shall be considered regressive if it—(a) reduces a minimum technical standard or level of protection provided for in retained EU law, or(b) weakens governance processes associated with that standard or protection.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment prevents Ministers from using powers relating to EU withdrawal to diminish standards or protections in retained EU law relating to a series of ‘protected matters’.
My Lords, Amendment 19 is in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town. One of the key issues in our debates has been the extent to which the United Kingdom will continue to safeguard the protections of certain rights that derive from EU law. The previous Bill, and assurances by the Government, indicated that protections would remain. The Government have repeatedly stated that, while they do not intend to undercut EU regulations, they want to retain the option of divergence and will therefore now refuse to sign up to level playing field provisions in a free trade agreement. It is time to know, if we can, what that actually means and just what the Government intend.
Just last Friday, the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, told the Financial Times that Britain would never accept ongoing regulatory alignment with Brussels. Ministers are arguing that it is not necessary to sign up to minimum standards, because in most cases the UK already exceeds what is required by EU directives or regulations, but we all know that that is not true in all areas.
The Government are telling us to trust them, even though they stripped out their previous commitments on workers’ rights and parliamentary oversight. As we saw in Committee, they cannot yet define the future relationship they want with a range of the EU’s executive agencies. We have, of course, been promised a ground-breaking new employment Bill, but Ministers will not tell us what its contents will be or set the timescales. We are not certain what engagement has taken place with trade unions and, while there is a need to regulate the gig economy, we need to be certain that this will not water down protections for other workers.
Yesterday, the European Commission briefed EU 27 diplomats on its preparations for the next round of Brexit negotiations. The presentation suggested that the EU will continue to advocate level playing field measures, with future co-operation to be underpinned by a single set of strong enforcement rules. It has been suggested that if the UK breaches any of its commitments under the future trade agreement, it could be fined or lose its preferential access to certain sectors. In response to the comments made by Mr Javid last week, one EU diplomat is quoted as saying:
“In the end it is all rather simple: If Britain wants to diverge from EU rules, it will diverge. Such an approach would obviously lead to new trade hurdles between Britain and the EU and in consequence less trade, less investment, less jobs.”
The Government need to be clear about their intentions. If they want a Canada-style deal, they should be honest with the public about the limitations of that approach. If they want Canada-plus-plus-plus or similar, and the economic and security benefits that a closer relationship would bring, Ministers need to be honest with the public that this will require a greater degree of alignment.
As we know, time is tight. The EU has been clear that it will not even adopt its negotiating mandate until the UK has departed at the end of this month. There needs to be sufficient time left for the ratification of any agreements by national and regional parliaments across the continent. My party has always been clear that it wants a close economic relationship with the EU and that regulatory alignment is not only a price worth paying but would bring benefits to UK citizens. The Government might disagree but, having won the election by promising to get Brexit done, they must now get on with the job of telling people what post-Brexit Britain will actually look like. The purpose of this amendment is to set out the protections that we believe ought to be continued. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about the extent to which assurance will be given on to those protections. For those reasons, I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment and associate myself fully with the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. As such, I can be brief.
Until last weekend, the Government had resolutely maintained a twin-track narrative. Yes, they said, we will have an independent trading policy; yes, they said, we will have frictionless trading with the European Union. Many of us in Committee tried to point out that these would, in effect, be mutually exclusive, and at the heart of this were regulatory standards. Many of us tried to explain that for frictionless trade to take place, a level playing field with the EU 27 means just that: a level playing field with no divergence. The Minister, at his obdurate best, shrugged off those Committee- stage comments.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, outlined, the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, broke cover in his interview with the Financial Times at the weekend. He quashed any prospect of the Treasury lending its support to our country’s leading manufacturing sectors. He was very clear, saying:
“There will not be alignment”
and he urged companies to adjust to the new reality, for our automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical, chemical and food and drink industries, all of which have been clear on the vital need for alignment with EU regulations. Mr Javid added
“we will do this by the end of the year”
which is not long to wait.
Therefore, at least one member of the Government has told the truth and told us where the Government are headed. However, it is simply amazing that any Administration, never mind a Conservative one, should turn their back on these important providers of jobs and prosperity. This amendment would prevent Ministers using regulation-making powers under the Bill to diminish standards or protections related to series of protected matters. That sounds very dry and cold, but those protected matters, specified in the amendment, affect everyone. They include the environment, employment, social rights, animal welfare and public health—really important aspects of the everyday lives of people in this country.
The amendment, so ably moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, in essence sets out in writing the aspirations that the political agreement purported to set out. We now know that those aspirations have come to naught. Will the Minister tell us where the Government are headed and what will happen to standards?
My Lords, I lend my support to the amendment, to which I have put my name, and I will add a couple of points which have not previously been made. We are of course going over ground which we pretty thoroughly discussed yesterday with regard to Amendment 15. The ground is a bit different but the issue is the same: a level playing field, maintenance of EU standards and so on.
First—I hope the Minister will reply to this—this is not an onerous obligation because, as I think he will find if he looks at the record, we voted for every single one of these EU measures, which we will not regress from if this amendment is adopted. Therefore, if we voted for them, why do we now want to diverge from them?
Another important point is that anyone who knows anything about Brussels knows that this will be an absolutely crucial factor in the political declaration implementation—the whole level playing field issue, and so on. I would honestly wager that, if we accept this amendment, we will get a much better deal than the one we will get if we insist on diverging. It is worth remembering that the cost to this country’s trade of insisting on the right to diverge will hit us long before we diverge. It will affect the terms we get in the deal we do, and the way in which inward investors and traders assess the chances of trade between the UK and the 27 not becoming more frictional. Therefore, the costs will be up front; they will not be somewhere down the road and perhaps avoidable if we never diverge. I would not be a bit surprised that, having beaten the tom-toms in this way in favour of divergence, the Government found that diverging was not as brilliant as all that.
Thirdly, noble Lords have probably not paid a huge amount of attention to what has been going on in the internal deliberations in Brussels. One of the Commission’s main proposals in the context of its green deal, which I am sure it will follow up, is to put tariffs on goods coming from countries which do not observe the same environmental conditions as those observed in the European Union. That could be us if we diverged, as the Government, in the form of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, suggested we would. Noble Lords may or may not think that the Commission’s proposal is a good idea; I do not, on the grounds of world trade policy. What noble Lords cannot disagree with, however, is that we are not going to influence greatly what the EU 27 decide to do: they will decide on the basis of their own inward dynamic, and strong forces are pushing for that.
We may find ourselves, therefore, confronted in the not very distant future by a European Union that is putting tariffs on imports from countries that do not follow the same environmental rules as it does. That will come on top of anything we negotiate this year, because you can bet your bottom dollar that any deal we negotiate will have an escape clause that enables the European Union to adjust its treatment of trade with third countries—of which we will be one—on the basis of movement in their own policies.
There are, therefore, very serious issues at stake here. In fact, if the Government accepted this amendment it would cost nothing. I hope that they will do so—but that is a hope that may take some time to blossom.
My Lords, I support in principle, as I did in previous European Union withdrawal Bill debates, the sentiments that underlie this amendment. I ask the Minister to clarify in his summing up a point about animal welfare. Does he recall when we diverged from the rest of the European Union—I think it was in the early 1990s—by introducing a unilateral sow stall and tether ban, which we believed would pander to the animal welfare lobby and ensure overnight that the Conservatives appealed to a group that was not in the habit of voting Conservative? The outcome at that time was not what we had hoped: it was to push many of our pig producers out of business and to encourage more imports from countries such as Denmark and Poland. That was because the consumer tended to buy their meat not from local butchers but from supermarkets, on the basis of price. While it may therefore be appealing to introduce food into this country from countries that do not meet our high standards, it is highly undesirable for a number of reasons.
In this regard, will the Minister clarify the Government’s position on the introduction of a standards commission? Great progress was made in the last Parliament between the National Farmers’ Union, other farm organisations and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It was generally understood that a standards commission would be introduced to ensure that our home-produced foods and farm products would not meet unfair competition. The usual examples, with which we are all too familiar, are hormone-produced beef and chlorinated chicken, but there is also poultry and other products from Brazil, Argentina and other countries. Will my noble friend confirm that the Government are minded to introduce such a standards commission before the end of December?
I do not see it on today’s list, but I understand that potential problems are looming with the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which I am not familiar with, but, having attended a conference this morning, I am more familiar with than I was yesterday. The Commission is due to introduce guidelines that we will be obliged to follow, although it has not yet done so. We will not have a regulator in place immediately, although I understand that the Government are going to announce an interim regulator imminently. Will the Minister confirm what the status of this directive will be as part of retained EU law, as it has already been adopted but not yet implemented? It would be very helpful if he could outline to the House today what that will be.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who so eloquently introduced this amendment, referred among other things to chemical safety, biodiversity, the environment, animal welfare and food safety. What is the situation regarding new chemicals that will be introduced in this country and that we would hope to export to the European market in the run-up to December this year, given that we will have an office for environmental protection fully in place only by 1 January 2021?
My Lords, I am no thespian, and my abilities as a scriptwriter are minimal. However, I have prepared a 60-second play to entertain your Lordships this afternoon.
Imagine the scene: a chance encounter between the Prime Minister and one of those voters from the “red wall” constituencies who lent his or her vote to the Conservatives on the basis that they would “Get Brexit done”. I thought we might stage it in the National Railway Museum in York. I have to tell noble Lords that this play is not a comedy. I am going to call my protagonist “Billy” for the sake of argument:
“Billy: The Withdrawal Bill before the election had protections for my EU workers rights, but those protections have been removed from the current Withdrawal Bill. Why?
The Prime Minister: No problem. The protections will be in an Employment Bill later this year.
Billy: Ah yes, I saw you stated in the Queen’s Speech briefing that the Employment Bill would ‘Enhance and protect workers’ rights – as the UK leaves the EU … making Britain the best place in the world to work’, and I noted that your manifesto said that you will ‘Raise standards in areas like workers’ rights’.
The Prime Minister: There you are then.
Billy: But Ministers have said that there will be no dynamic alignment, and yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer said no regulatory alignment either.
The Prime Minister: Correct.
Billy: But that means you could cut my rights: you could reduce my EU right to paid holiday from four weeks to two.
The Prime Minister: That’s not our intention, but you must understand that we can’t have our hands tied in negotiations with the EU.
Billy: Ah! Now I understand. The EU might want to cut the rights of British workers, and you want the freedom to defend them.
The Prime Minister: Not quite. The EU will be seeking to defend your rights. It’s the British Government who might need to threaten to reduce them.
Billy: But I thought, when I voted to take back control, that the British Government would stand up for British workers’ rights.
The Prime Minister: Not quite.
Billy: I’ve been conned. You’ve done me up like a—[expletive deleted]—kipper.
Will the Government give an assurance that they will not permit workers in the United Kingdom to have fewer rights now or in the future than those of their counterparts in the EU, the US or any other country with which a free trade agreement is sought? If that assurance is given, this amendment will be unnecessary. If that assurance is not given, the Minister should not mince words and should state clearly that in these negotiations the British Government will not defend the rights of British workers.
My Lords, after that rather enjoyable contribution, and despite the very distinguished movers of this amendment, I find the whole thing a little bit puzzling. First, surely it is obvious that we are a responsible trading nation seeking the highest gold standards of regulation, standards and welfare and that, if we want to trade with and to expand our trade in the great markets of Asia, Africa and America as well as in our neighbours in Europe, we must rigorously observe the best international standards. That is a must. Even if we had a choice in the matter, which we do not, we would have to pursue that course.
Secondly, is it not obvious that in exporting, as we must, not only to the great European market but to all the countries of the Americas, Asia—where all the major growth in consumer markets will be over the next 10 years—Africa and Latin America, we will have to conform strictly to their standards as customers? If we are measuring the design and thickness of windscreens in motor cars, the windscreen provisions laid down in the European Common Market will have to be observed or we will not sell cars into the European Union. The same goes for America, India and China, each with its own quite different standards. We will have to be very flexible in all our patterns of standards and regulations governing health and safety, conditions, durability and all the other conformities required in these new markets. That will happen anyway.
Thirdly, the EU standards in some areas are excellent, and no doubt we will parallel and continue with them as we have before, but some are a little out of date. We are now moving into a world in which the predominant pattern of our European economies is services; we are a service economy. Frankly, job security is not what it was for anybody, so we need to redesign rights, benefits and support for millions of workers in a world where the old guarantees of a job for life and so on—the security that the great trade unions battled for in the past—will no longer be there. A totally new pattern of work has emerged, in which businesses will be operated in completely different ways. This requires a completely fresh approach to the pattern of benefits, security, protection and support; we must pioneer it in this country.
With all the variety of the markets, standards and regulations that we will have to meet—to be a successful exporter into China and so on—why we should want to be tied solely to, and aligned solely with, the pattern of our neighbours in the remains of the European Union is, frankly, a puzzle. I see the motive and concern behind it, the worry that there may be a sliding away of standards, but the reality is that we have no choice but to maintain very high standards indeed. Varied export markets demand standards of a whole variety, and there is no choice in this matter at all.
A great deal of this level playing field stuff is not driven by those concerns—of protecting workers in the new environment and new working conditions of the digital age—as it should be. I think it is driven by something else. I say to the very noble and distinguished movers of this amendment that that is something worth considering before they press it, because I do not think it fits into the modern world into which we are moving.
My Lords, the importance of this amendment cannot be overstated. At a time when the Government like to tell us repeatedly how well they are doing on employment in this country, this always overlooks the growing anxiety in the country about the conditions in which many people are working and the exploitation, sometimes quite ruthless, that goes on. There is a real anticipated anxiety that there is a driving force, wherever it is coming from—within No. 10 or wherever—behind so much of this legislation and that its real objective is about reaching a situation in which we can have a deregulated society and a free-for-all. That is the belief, the conviction, that many people believe is behind it all. That is why what is said about employment and social rights is so important in this protections list.
I care about the whole protections list but, if I were to pick one other item on it, it is that we are living in an acute and immediate crisis with the environment and biodiversity. Unless we take this seriously, the kinds of problems that will overtake our society in future could dwarf any of the preoccupations which take up so much of our time in Parliament at the moment. It is imperative to ensure that we do not just have good intentions and great aspirations but that we have the means to deliver what we are aspiring to in this context. We must insist on the standards which have so far been achieved—not as an end in themselves but as a platform from which we can move forward to still stronger, more imaginative action. I cannot say how much I welcome this amendment.
My Lords, I offer the Green group’s support for this amendment. Noble Lords will have noticed that your Lordships’ House is not quite as crowded as it was when we were debating the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I invite your Lordships to consider all the people who are not here—the people in our supermarkets, streets, workplaces and wilderness areas. We have been talking about EU standards, but I would call them the people’s standards. These standards were won by campaigns and struggles—by people in the UK and across the EU who stood up against the lobbyists and corporate interests. They stood up against those who had so much power in deciding what kinds of standards there should be in places such as the United States of America. They stood up for something better.
The Government keep saying that they want to have higher standards than the people’s standards that we have had to fight so hard to get. I entirely accept the need for much higher standards. In this hugely nature-depleted country, each year we are collectively consuming the resources of our share of three planets—although we have only one. We are pumping out so much greenhouse gas. As the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, so eloquently outlined, we have people in really desperate workplace situations. We need better standards, but these people’s standards are a foundation.
I am sure that we will hear from the Benches opposite about the UK’s crucial place in the UN climate talks as part of COP 26 this year. If the Government do not incorporate this amendment into the withdrawal agreement Bill, what kind of message will this send about us as the chair of COP 26?
My Lords, this amendment proposes that we should not regress from the existing EU-derived rights and practices in relation to the protected matters specified in the amendment. I see no difficulty in principle about that. There may be much merit in it in terms of continuity of public policy and of reassuring the public that we will maintain the standards that have so far been established by the EU and continue to conform with them.
But it is surely essential that we retain the right to diverge. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, gave some very important reasons for this. The world is changing, and our country and economy need to be alert to all the changes that will provide opportunity for us in the future, as we seek our fortune in a wider world. The eurozone economy is a relatively inert and sluggish region of the global economy. While much has been achieved and very important protections have been established for workers’ rights and environmental issues, as the noble Baroness has just mentioned, and we do not want to lose that acquis—those achievements and benefits—we have got to be flexible and be able to be innovative.
The essential principle of Brexit is that we take back control of our laws. It is an entirely reasonable proposition that this Parliament should legislate to perpetuate our conformance with certain particular laws that have already been enacted. It is a very different proposition that we should commit ourselves to the proverbial level playing field and the principle of non-divergence following the end of the implementation period. That is not what is envisaged in the amendment, but it seems to have been contemplated by a number of noble Lords in their speeches. If taking back control of our laws means anything, it means that we must reserve the right to diverge. Indeed, we will need to have the right to diverge even from what has already been established and achieved when it proves in some sense obsolescent, as new reasons and new horizons emerge for the kind of changes and developments that we would seek to achieve in our economy.
I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, for so eloquently introducing the subject. The amendment is very much like proposed new Clause 31, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, in Committee. I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the other noble Lords who took part in the debate on that amendment as well. Noble Lords will be completely unsurprised to discover that the Government’s position on this matter remains unchanged.
The amendment fundamentally mistakes the nature of the Bill before us. The amendment is about our domestic policy post exit in a number of extremely important areas. However, by contrast, the Bill is about implementing the withdrawal agreement into domestic law. It is not about our post-exit domestic policy, important though that is. Therefore, we believe that the amendment is wholly inappropriate for this Bill. However, since the amendment has drawn us into a debate, even though it is beyond the scope and purpose of the Bill, it might be useful for me to reiterate how we will take decisions about issues such as environmental standards and other matters once we have left the EU.
As I set out in Committee, these matters were debated extensively during the passage of the 2018 EU withdrawal Act. I remember replying to that debate; I think that many of the same noble Lords who contributed today took part in that debate as well. Noble Lords will remember that, back then, the concern raised was that the Section 8 power in that Act would be used to regress from EU standards. I reiterate that the Section 8 power can be used only for the purposes of correcting deficiencies that arise as a consequence of the UK’s withdrawal. That is what we said then, and I think that our record has proven that to be the case.
The 2018 Act does not provide a power to change laws simply because the Government did not like them before exit, and the Government cannot use the powers for the purposes of rolling back standards and protections merely because we wish to do so. Instead, where we seek to depart substantively from retained EU law, separate legislation will be brought forward, as indeed it already has been in certain areas. At that point, Parliament will, as normal, have its opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s actions. This would allow for tailored and intense scrutiny. I have no doubt whatever that this House and the other place will fulfil their duties in this regard with great vigour. Once again, I reiterate our view that these debates are for that future legislation.
In any case, I can reassure noble Lords that the Government have no plans to introduce legislation that would have a regressive effect. We will not weaken protections in these areas when we leave the European Union; rather, we will maintain and enhance our already high standards.
We spoke at length in Committee about the Government’s record on the environment, chemicals, food standards and animal welfare. For the sake of clarity, I will again set out some of our commitments. First, the UK has a long and proud history with regard to the environment and it is of the utmost importance that this is maintained when we leave the EU. There are areas where we are already planning to go further than EU legislation permits, such as single-use plastics. The Government will shortly be introducing the environment Bill, which we promised during the 2018 debates. It will strengthen environmental protections and enshrine environmental principles in law.
I will take this opportunity to reply to the point made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh on the subject of sow stalls, a debate which I remember well from my time in the European Parliament. That is an example of the UK going beyond EU rules in the full knowledge of the likely consequences. We chose to go further. We may decide—I am not committing us—to go further on live animal exports and in other areas, enhancing what protections are currently provided under EU law. If we do, we should consider the consequences. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, correctly pointed out, the whole point of Brexit is to take back control. These are decisions which we can make for ourselves in this Parliament in future. We do not need an external power dictating what we do in these regards.
On employment rights, I reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that we are committed to ensuring that workers’ rights are protected as the UK leaves the EU. We are legislating in areas where the EU is only just starting to catch up. It is the UK that has been shaping the agenda on tackling abuses in the gig economy, a point well made by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. As we announced in the Queen’s Speech, we will be bringing forward legislation to continue delivering and building on the Good Work Plan. This will give workers in the UK the protections they need in a changing world of work. Much as I greatly enjoyed the entertaining vignette from the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, I remind him that in a number of these areas—including holiday pay and maternity pay—the UK already goes much further than EU minimum standards permit. That is something that we should be proud of, and it is something that we are going to build on.
I have set out the Government’s view that this amendment is not appropriate for this Bill. I have also, I hope, provided some reassurance about the Government’s intentions regarding some of the issues raised by the amendment. I will close by noting that the effect of the amendment is unclear. The proposed new clause before us makes government action with a “regressive effect” unlawful, but it leaves many of the key terms unworkably vague. It is somewhat surprising that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, does not appreciate the poor wording of the amendment. First, the failure to define “protected matters” makes the scope of the amendment unclear. Secondly, the uncertainties in the definition of a “regressive effect” would create a great deal of legal uncertainty. Perhaps he is hoping for some legal uncertainties, as they would provide more work for lawyers. That was a joke, by the way. “Regressive effect” is defined as an effect that
“reduces a minimum technical standard … or … weakens governance processes associated with that standard or protection.”
The meaning of a reduction or a weakening, in this context, is not at all straightforward. Making this regressive effect unlawful without a clear definition carries significant legal risks, and may restrict policy with a progressive design, as the Government may avoid making policy changes for fear of acting unlawfully. This could impede delivery of post-Brexit government policy intended to deliver improvements in these areas.
To give an example, the waste framework directive sets targets for preparing for reuse and recycling of waste to achieve the EU’s ambition to move to a circular economy. I think that we would all support that. The targets are set on weight, so the directive obliges member states to ensure that a minimum of 55% by weight of municipal waste is reused and recycled by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035. However, weight-based targets may not lead to the optimal environmental outcome. If the UK were to remove this target and replace it with a target set on a different metric—on carbon, for example—while the UK could have improved standards, we could still be held to have regressed on environmental protections, were this amendment to become law. This kind of legal uncertainty has been decried in other debates.
This Bill is the vehicle to implement the withdrawal agreement in domestic law; it is not to legislate for our post-exit domestic policy in these areas. That is for separate debates in separate fora. We will no doubt have them with great vigour, as we do in all these policy areas. The amendment is neither necessary nor appropriate for the Bill. The Bill will ensure that we move forward and focus on our domestic priorities. Noble Lords can already scrutinise any changes that regulations might make to retained EU law under the Section 8 power. As I said earlier, and say again for the benefit of clarity, the Government are committed to maintaining and enhancing our already high standards, including through legislation where appropriate. I hope, given the reassurances I have provided, that the noble and learned Lord is able to withdraw his amendment.
I followed my noble friend’s arguments closely and understood him to say that Section 8 can be used only to correct deficiencies following the EU withdrawal Bill. His summing up was comprehensive, but he did not respond to the potential obvious deficiencies in the audio-visual media services directive. This may not be the only directive that falls into this category, but it is a category that I banged on about ad nauseam during the first EU withdrawal Bill and it has still not been resolved. If my noble friend is not able to answer today, could he write and tell me, and everyone else who has spoken in this debate, what the legal position is? We have not implemented the directive, but we are now leaving the European Union and it becomes part of retained law, I would argue, in a very deficient way.
If it becomes part of retained EU law before the end of the implementation period, it will be transferred into British law by snapshotting the procedure. I do not know the details of that directive, so I undertake to write to the noble Baroness about it.
I thank the Minister for his reply and thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, particularly those—and it is the majority—who supported this amendment. I will just clear one or two matters out the way, from what the Minister said. The first is on the scope of the Bill. There was no problem including protections of this sort in the Bill before the election. It has been revised now, but I do not follow that point.
Secondly, he sees imperfections in the Bill. I have been in government too, and we always have the ability to improve amendments that have been tabled, the substance of which we agree with, to cure that problem. That is not the reason the Government are resisting this amendment. We all know that. The Government are resisting this amendment because they do not want, despite what has been said before, to be committed to non-regression. The point is about non-regression; the clue is in the title. It is about standards being lowered. Of course, they can be improved or changed, as long as, under this amendment, they are not reduced. That is the concern. For some reason—it appears to be ideological purity—the Government are not prepared to give that guarantee.
I was taken by the vignette—the play—of my noble friend Lord Hendy. I have heard him in court before, but it was the first time I have heard him in Parliament. He was as persuasive here as he is in court. But ideological purity risks damaging this country and the people in it. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is that the Government’s insistence on this divergence has caused damage already. We have given the Government the opportunity to give assurances about this. Everyone will read what the noble Lord said in Hansard very closely. We have given them the opportunity to give stronger assurances to the outside world and the workers in it, and the invitation was not accepted. If, as many think, the result will be damage to the country and the people within it, and the rights that people believed were going to be protected, we know at whose door the fault will lie.
I will not press the amendment because there is no point in doing so with the position that the Government are in in the other place. It is clear that they will not accept this proposal or anything like it, but we will continue to hold them to their warm words and will carefully define and interpret them to see how far they go. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 19 withdrawn.
Clause 38: Parliamentary sovereignty
20: Clause 38, page 37, line 27, after “Kingdom” insert “, acting in accordance with the conventions relating to devolved power set out in—
(a) section 28(8) of the Scotland Act 1998, and(b) section 107(6) of the Government of Wales Act 2006,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment alters the statement on parliamentary sovereignty to take note of the Sewel Convention, as enshrined in the Scotland Act 1998 and Government of Wales Act 2006.
The intention behind this amendment is to provide a key reassurance to Scotland and Wales. As we know, Clause 38 as it stands is pretty meaningless. As we said in Committee, it was added basically as a sop to the European Reform Group. However, as the Explanatory Notes make clear, the clause makes no material difference to the scope of Parliament’s powers.
The problem with it is more what it does not say in that it fails to refer to the Sewel convention—the convention that the UK Parliament will not normally use its powers to legislate on devolved matters without the agreement of the National Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, this stand-alone restatement of what I would call the bleeding obvious in regard to Parliament, without even a nod to the conventions, appears to backtrack on the devolution settlements.
The Welsh Government will therefore wish the Sewel convention to be restated. The noble and learned Lord the Minister said last week that that was not necessary because the settlements are already written into law. Perhaps they are but, for the same reason, there is also no need to restate parliamentary sovereignty. The problem is that doing one without the other gives the impression that the convention is being downplayed, and that is not helpful. I think I am right in saying that the Welsh Assembly, even at this moment, is debating legislative consent, and the rejection of this amendment will not be taken well by that gathering. For all sorts of reasons, it would be a poor precedent for this Bill to be the first to be passed without legislative consent from the Welsh Assembly.
The Government could decide to do what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, urged in Committee and take out Clause 38 altogether. That certainly would not detract from the Bill. They could still do that or they could accept this amendment. Either move would offer comfort to each of the devolved authorities that our departure from the EU was not being used to take back any powers or activities from their purview. Such reassurance, I know, would be welcome. The clock in Wales is ticking. I hope that the Minister can accept the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment and shall explain why. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has made it clear that in a sense this clause is superfluous, but it is superfluous in a slightly sinister way. It asserts the sovereignty of Parliament and effectively says, “Therefore, this Parliament can always overrule the devolved legislatures.” We know that to be sovereign law but putting it in a Bill rubs salt into open wounds. Scotland and Northern Ireland have already refused consent and it is expected that Wales will vote today to do the same.
Over the last 20 years we have developed what is described as a quasi-federal constitution, but it is not federal; it is unitary, and Parliament, or Westminster, is sovereign. That is a fact. However, the whole point of the Sewel convention was to try to give comfort and reassurance to the devolved legislatures that they have a standing and a status that Westminster will take into account and acknowledge, and in all circumstances do its best to accommodate. It is a convention, not a law. That is obviously the argument as to why we should maybe move towards a federal constitution, which would effectively confer these conventions into law. I welcome the fact that the Labour Party is now engaged in serious consideration of federalism, which has been a long-standing policy aspiration of the Liberal Democrats. Quite genuinely, we should work together on a cross-party basis to develop the thinking behind this.
The Minister’s words may matter—not just the terms of the legislation. There should be a sense of concern that, as powers come back from Brussels to the UK, those powers that do not return directly to the devolved legislatures and Administrations will come to the central UK Government and effectively weaken the existing devolution settlement, unless there is a genuine spirit of co-operation where the devolved Administration’s views are properly weighed and taken into account. If the Government simply say, “We brought back control to a sovereign Parliament. Whether you like it or not, this Parliament can do what it likes and we intend to do so”, that is not a good way to take the UK forward.
I do not necessarily subscribe to the view that Brexit makes the break-up of the United Kingdom more or less likely. The pain and disruption of Brexit might well discourage people in Scotland and Ireland from wanting to add other disruptions to it; I do not think it is as clear and simple as that. It behoves the Government to show a genuine engagement with the devolved Administrations; not just to use sweet words but to look for practical solutions that will ensure that the devolved Administrations are taken into account.
If the Government turn around and say, “We hear how you voted but we are carrying on regardless”, that will not provide comfort and confidence that devolution is here for real and will develop. It requires the Government to show a lot more accommodation. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that there are two ways to resolve this. The Government could simply repeal the clause and leave the Bill vacant on this, or they could accept the amendment. To do neither of those things would leave people in all the devolved areas very suspicious of the Government’s intentions.
My Lords, I think it is fair to say that, had we not been in the EU when devolution occurred, we would most certainly have moved towards a more federal arrangement in this country. The fact that our regulations were shared across the UK, even in devolved areas, covered the need for a federal arrangement where the different Assemblies and Parliaments could come together. Now that we will be out of the EU, there is a fair degree of urgency to address this. How are we going to devise regulations in the future? If we start that process by not including the Sewel convention, we start from a point where levels of disagreement are such that it will be hard to have that debate in a calm, careful way. We should accept this amendment, but also go on to explore the ways in which, where devolved matters intercept, we will work together in future across territorial areas. I hope that we can accept this amendment.
My Lords, I rise briefly in support of this amendment, to which I have added my name. I explained earlier today, and yesterday, why it is vital for this Government to recognise the importance of devolution as we go forward. This is a purely symbolic clause which does not make any difference. It could be left out. But, if it is to go in, can it please acknowledge that we live in a United Kingdom that has changed and where we must recognise the devolved legislatures? Conventions are of the utmost importance in this respect and should be recognised in the Bill.
My Lords, I try to follow all the arguments that are put forward about devolution and where it all stands. The puzzle to me is that the logic of the people supporting this amendment seems to be that the Parliament here at Westminster is not entirely sovereign. That may be an issue that we wish to take up at some point in the future, but it is not something that we should be dealing with in the withdrawal Bill. I am not a lawyer, but the way the amendment is phrased seems to make justiciable anything that comes up between the devolved Administrations and Westminster. At this point, I think I would oppose the amendment on the ground that it would detract from the sovereignty of Westminster without all the implications having been thought through.
My Lords, I cannot really think that that is how things will play out. Yesterday I heard that an agreement had been made, meaning that there would be no vote that evening. On the strength of that, I arranged to take my wife out for dinner at last. Then everything changed, and there was to be a vote— indeed, there were to be two votes. I slipped out before any of that happened to phone my wife and say, “Dinner’s off.” I simply make the plea that we distinguish between what is in the marriage contract and the conventions that we create for ourselves that help marriages, and other relationships, to flourish.
This is a convention; it is not a law. But in granting this convention and incorporating it in the Bill, we will improve the relationship between us and the people in the devolved Administrations. It is so simple. We have heard arguments about things being set in stone, and about the thin end of the wedge. Who remembers reading FM Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica? One or two—these are the educated people. It was an argument about what happens in academic circles, where there is always a body of people who are resistant to change. They resist change on the grounds that it may be the thin end of the wedge, or set things in concrete, and all the other things I have been hearing in these wretched debates. Please let us realise that the softer acknowledgements of relationships, as well as the hard ones, help the debate, and the relationships, forward.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak, but over the last week I have listened to the various representatives of the devolved Administrations in this union of ours. Speaking as a totally English person, without any relationships in any of the three devolved areas—other than being married to an Ulsterman—I think that we English ought to be very careful and listen to what the devolved areas are saying to us. It was said earlier that the Government, and indeed many English people, might not really appreciate what devolution has meant. Perhaps it is time we did.
My Lords, I support the amendment, which would put in statutory form what has grown into an important convention. I would like clarification, which I failed to get in yesterday’s debate, regarding the breadth of the convention. I asked a specific question:
“will the Minister clarify and emphasise that legislative consent would normally be required for any regulation that would be brought in under this Act?”—[Official Report, 20/1/20; col. 958.]
I was referring in particular to Clause 21.
As I did not get satisfaction from the Minister’s reply, I repeated my question later, saying:
“I might be a slow learner, but, following the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, I would like to know which specific points cannot be dealt with by a Section 109 order.”
A Section 109 order would be a consensual matter, as opposed to one imposed from Westminster. The Minister replied:
“I cannot give the noble and learned Lord the answer to that question, but I can give him the assurance, from speaking to my legal advisers, that in the negotiations that will unfold there will be areas that we think will be under discussion that might stand outside those areas I have touched on regarding Section 109 and the ability to direct Welsh Ministers.”—[Official Report, 20/1/20; col. 964.]
Perhaps now, after some more thought, the Front Bench can give the clarification that I required on how, from the viewpoint of Her Majesty’s Government, the convention would be implemented.
My Lords, like others who have spoken about devolution, I have made many points and will not repeat them. However, it is important that the Government do not misinterpret the vote to leave the EU on the back of the slogan of “taking back control” as a vote for yet more concentration of power in the hands of people who work within a mile or so of this building. People want a sense of direct influence over their lives and things that really matter to them.
The amendment simply supports the status quo of the Sewel convention. It respects the relationship between Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd. I urge the Government to recognise that it does nothing to constrain their agility in negotiating or their ability to negotiate. If the culture change that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, spoke about so eloquently today is to happen, surely we must recognise that there are Governments other than the one in this Chamber and at the other end of this building.
My Lords, I should like to reply to the point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose. I think he suggested that the inclusion of this amendment in the Bill would render the convention justiciable, and that there was something about it that would attract the attention of the judiciary. I have lived with the Sewel convention for a very long time, particularly with the amendment to the Scotland Act, now enshrined in Section 28(8). One of the points made by the Smith commission was that it wanted the Sewel convention to be given statutory effect. I am afraid that that battle was lost because, as Section 28(8) of the Scotland Act puts it, it remains a convention. Indeed, it was made perfectly clear by the Supreme Court when it considered the matter that it is not justiciable; it is simply a convention.
For my part—having, as I say, lived with the convention repeatedly through the 1918 Act—I relied on assurances by Ministers that they would respect the convention. It was not actually written into the Act, as I recall. So, for my part, I shall listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say, because in the past this has been handled by Ministers giving assurances that the House has respected. I am not certain that it is necessary to write it in in this way, but if I do not get that kind of assurance, I might go with the amendment. The words that the Minister uses will be extremely important to me in deciding what to do.
My Lords, points have been admirably made by many other distinguished speakers. I will just make one: this whole issue unfortunately shows the frailty of devolution as a basis for keeping our partnership of nations together. Devolution had weaknesses built into it, admirable change though it was. As many of us said, the regulatory relationships between the nations were left extremely unregulated, if you like, and in a very imperfect condition, depending, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, on the power of the word “convention”, which hovers over the English constitution in a very dangerous way.
The other thing to be said about devolution as a frail basis for a settlement is that it is deliberately asymmetrical, and an asymmetrical devolution means unequal distribution. Wales has always been treated as a poorer relation in the partnership. When there are possibilities of strain, as we see in the case of the Bill, the thing is liable to crumble. The whole basic weakness of the settlement is, alas, likely to continue and to weaken the United Kingdom. It is perhaps appropriate that these aspects are implications of the work of King Henry VIII, who, despite his background, was the master voice of English nationalism. He adopted a colonial attitude to Wales and that is reflected in our current difficulties.
My Lords, I have not added my name to this amendment but would like to register my support for it. Twelve months ago, to this week, Vaughan Gething, the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services was asked: if the Senedd refused to grant consent to an Act of Parliament, could it be overruled by Westminster? His reply was interesting. He said that the ability of the UK Parliament to override a measure made in any part of the UK is one of the mischiefs in the UK’s constitution that needs fixing. I do not for a moment suggest that we begin the fixing process today, but I cite his words merely as a fairly accurate summing up of the situation in which we find ourselves today.
The exclusion of a reference to the status of the devolved Administrations from Clause 38 appears deliberate. It seems designed to ensure that the devolved Administrations have no role to play in the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. It enshrines, by this omission, the inequality of the power between the nations of the UK. The inclusion of Amendment 20 in Clause 38 would go some way to redress the balance and ensure that the devolved Administrations could represent the views of their respective nations in this massively important process.
I am a passionate advocate for the Senedd. I strongly believe in the principles of devolution, as do my colleagues on these Benches. The Senedd has given Wales a voice and a feeling of nationhood. The exclusion of this amendment could lead to the perception of both being taken away. Accepting this amendment would go some way to preventing those losses.
I know it is not normal for me to speak at this moment, but I thought the Minister might want to reflect on this: having heard and followed this debate, the Welsh parliament has just voted not to give consent to the Bill.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. It is obvious that I have spent so long debating across this Chamber with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that she is now able to predict my replies to these questions, because the Government do feel that this amendment is an unnecessary restatement of the Sewel principles, which are already enshrined in statute. However, I accept the points made both by the noble Baroness and by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, in Committee last week that it is not the justiciability of the Sewel convention that matters most in these cases. What matters is that the Government continue to uphold the Sewel convention and make sure that the interests of the devolved Administrations and of the people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are fully taken account of as we leave the European Union. I am happy to make that commitment and demonstrate that we have done so in the passage of this Bill as well. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan, that the Government have engaged constructively with the devolved Administrations—and the Northern Ireland Civil Service when there was no Executive—throughout the development of this Bill. I am sure noble Lords will join me in welcoming the restoration of the institutions in Northern Ireland—we will now have an Assembly to engage with as well.
We have been discussing this Bill with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, as well as the Northern Ireland Civil Service, since July 2018 and we have incorporated suggestions from those Administrations into the White Paper. We discussed its contents with them in the following months. Following those discussions, the UK Government made significant changes to the Bill, including ensuring that devolved Ministers will have a clear role in the functioning of the independent monitoring authority that will monitor the citizens’ rights provisions in the Bill, restricting the powers in Clauses 18 and 19 from amending the devolution statutes and strictly limiting the number of provisions protected from modification by the devolved institutions to those of a constitutional nature.
We strongly believe that the changes we have made and the process we have followed have respected the devolution settlement. In line with the Sewel convention and the usual practices and procedures, we sought consent and I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, that we have worked extensively with the devolved Administrations to reach agreement in the hope that we would be able to achieve consent for this Bill. It is worth noting that the Scottish Government have publicly stated that they would refuse consent for any EU exit Bill. We took all reasonable steps to secure consent while respecting the constitutional fabric of the United Kingdom. This is not affecting our work with the devolved Administrations on other EU-exit-related legislation. Earlier this month, the UK Government introduced the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill into Parliament. The Government sought consent for the relevant parts of that Bill and the Scottish Parliament voted to provide it earlier this month. This will ensure that the UK Government and devolved Administrations have the necessary powers to provide direct payments to farmers after we leave the EU on 31 January.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, informed us, we have just discovered that the National Assembly of Wales has voted not to consent to those parts of the Bill on which we sought consent. We are of course disappointed that the devolved legislatures have withheld consent and we recognise the significance of proceeding without it. Nevertheless, these are exceptional circumstances and the Bill must proceed so that we can deliver on the referendum result and leave the EU by the end of this month.
My Lords, as unamended, the clause we are debating restates the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. Many of us considered that the devolution settlement had modified the Victorian concept of unitary sovereignty. In Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, went out of his way to reassert that AV Dicey’s views on parliamentary sovereignty—that the imperial Parliament is supreme and cannot share legislative power with other Assemblies—is what this clause means. Does the Minister not therefore recognise that the inclusion of this clause as it stands undermines the conventions established by the devolution settlement?
I am not sure I want to get into an arcane legal debate with the noble Lord, my noble and learned friend Lord Keen and others. I do not accept what the noble Lord says; I do not think this undermines the settlement.
We will of course continue to seek legislative consent. We will continue to take on board views and will work with the devolved Administrations on future legislation, whether related to EU exit or otherwise, just as we always have.
There was much wisdom from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. It would help the atmospherics a great deal if the Minister could reassure the Scots and the Welsh—I think the Northern Irish are reassured already—that they will be included in the United Kingdom team negotiating in the joint committee. I say that because I think it is right to try to improve the atmosphere and because, after all these years, the Lady Griffiths is entitled to a dinner out.
She is indeed. I hope that at some stage in the future the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, will repeat the endeavour which failed last night. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made a good point. We have already started discussions with Scottish and Welsh Ministers, and I hope that those with Northern Ireland Ministers are to come. I was present at some of the discussions in London a couple of weeks ago. A frame- work was put in place for joint ministerial committees; one on EU negotiations and one on ongoing EU business, which I chair. We will develop those consultations as we go into the next phase, and we are working on proposals to involve them in future negotiations. We will, of course, take that point on board.
We understand the importance of preserving both the spirit and the letter of the devolution settlements and the principles of the Sewel convention as the UK exits the EU. In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, I say that international relations are indeed a reserved matter. However, the devolved Administrations do have an important role in implementing these agreements. Any devolved provisions made under the Act will normally be made only with the agreement of the devolved Administrations and we will engage with them on this, as we have always done in the past. The Government are committed to upholding these principles, but this is not changed by restating them in the Bill. Given what I have said, and the reassurances that I have been able to give, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister, though I am obviously saddened by his response. My noble friend Lord Griffiths clearly abides by the conventions laid down by Lady Griffiths and we would do well to listen to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who said that we need to listen to what devolved areas are saying. The Government are not doing this: the devolved regions have come to us and said that they are not getting enough of a hearing. I will not repeat what all noble Lords said, but the comments are general. We need to give respect; we need to respect the convention which offers, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said, “comfort and reassurance” and, in the words of my noble friend Lady Bryan, “confidence”. This is all about recognising the convention as part and parcel of our parliamentary system. It does not override parliamentary sovereignty; it is a part of the way we are. It is a terrible shame that the Government cannot see that this detracts nothing from the Bill, but I seek to add it to the Bill. I therefore beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
21 January 2020
Division on Amendment 20
Amendment 20 agreed.View Details
Clause 41: Consequential and transitional provision etc.
21: Clause 41, page 40, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) Subsection (2) does not apply to the Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Act 2019, nor to any regulations made under that Act.”
My Lords, I will be brief. Clause 41 allows Ministers to make regulations that could alter any primary legislation that has been passed prior to the Bill. Such regulations will be made by the negative procedure, effectively giving Ministers carte blanche to do what they will to legislation that is already in statute. Many of us in the health community in your Lordships’ House were recently involved with the Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Act 2019, which, noble Lords will remember, started life as the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill. A number of significant changes were made to that Bill by this House and then approved by the Commons. However, this clause could allow Ministers to revert the Bill to the original, thereby thwarting the will of Parliament, or they could at any time change any component of it, or any other Bill, with the minimum amount of scrutiny. When you think about it, its scope is really quite breathtaking.
In Committee, my noble friend Lady Brinton asked the Minister about a letter that she had left with the Government Whips’ Office and which the Minister had not seen and so was unable to answer in as much detail as usual. Since then the Minister has sent noble Lords a letter outlining the situation, for which we were all very grateful. As well as responding to the amendment, I am sure that other noble Lords will want to press the Minister on the detail of the letter, so that the Government’s intentions are on the record about any proposed changes to legislation relating to healthcare and the EU. I do not intend to press this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, the European Union Committee report on Brexit, referring to the revised withdrawal agreement and political agreement, notes the lack of any mention of reciprocal health arrangements and says, in a section on mobility on pages 56 and 57, in paragraphs 252 to 257, that clarity was needed on how this would work. This is one of the reasons that I questioned the Minister in Committee. I am sorry, on both our parts, that the message with that question did not get through, and I thank her for the letter that she sent over the weekend. This is important because the European Union Committee says:
“There is no reference in this section of the Declaration to reciprocal healthcare, including the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), as a means of facilitating mobility.”
It was that “means of facilitating mobility” that was absolutely critical for the Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Act 2019. With your Lordships’ permission I will shorten that to “healthcare arrangements Act” rather than repeating the whole thing every time. Can the Minister explain why there was no mention of this reciprocal healthcare, and say explicitly to the House that these arrangements will stand?
Parts of the Minister’s letter were very helpful on specific points relating to those EU citizens living and working in the UK at the moment and UK citizens living and working in the EU. But that is not as broad as the provisions of the healthcare arrangements Act. That is why the committee raised its concerns, specifically using the phrase “means of facilitating mobility”.
The Minister’s letter made a rather odd assertion: that healthcare arrangements are protected by Clause 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, which covers social security systems. Nowhere in Clause 13 is there any reference to healthcare, nor is there any such reference in the healthcare arrangements Act. More worryingly, if she is right and I am wrong, the decision to change arrangements under Clause 13 is at complete odds with the decision arrangements in the healthcare arrangements Act. Clause 13 reinserts the Henry VIII powers that were in the original healthcare arrangements Bill, and both your Lordships’ House and then the Government decided that this was inappropriate. That is why that Bill was changed. It became an Act in April.
Sections 6 and 7 of the healthcare arrangements Act set out clear routes for changes via statutory instruments and reports to Parliament. That Act is transparent and accountable, unlike Clause 13, where responsibility for such decisions is given to the Minister of the Crown and/or a devolved authority. Can the Minister confirm that any arrangements relating to healthcare would fall under Sections 6 and 7 of the healthcare arrangements Act given that they do not relate to social security? This amendment tries to make sure that we have that protection for reciprocal healthcare. I beg to move.
My Lords, I had not expected to speak to this amendment, and I will be exceedingly brief. I do not want to take attention away from the healthcare issues that have been raised by my colleagues.
In this House we all know that when legislation is passed it is later used as a precedent. We have here a clause that effectively permits the Government by negative statutory instrument to change a huge raft of primary legislation passed by both Houses of this Parliament. If I had described that to a neutral person without mentioning that it was a move by the UK Government I think they would have assumed that it was being moved by Putin, Erdoğan or someone else who sees a democratic structure as a mechanism that they can reshape to assert government control over the general democratic process.
I am extremely concerned by this precedent and its extraordinary scope. It fits in with a pattern of a government approach to this Parliament that is diminishing the other House even more than this House. I think we can see in this, in the attitude towards negotiations, in the Government’s position on devolved assemblies, which we just heard, and in their attitude towards future trade negotiations that they are in a sense patterning themselves after local government, where an executive cabinet can make all the rules, the assembly can scrutinise—scrutiny only: that is its role, and I refer to the other House as well—and raise issues, but the executive can simply ignore it. I think this is an exceedingly dangerous road. This legislation and this cause advance that process, and everyone in this House, regardless of the party to which they are affiliated and which they support, needs to take on board that pattern which is being developed and which Clause 41 underpins. It requires a very serious rethink before we lose what we have had and it is too late to regret it.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment for a reason which keeps coming up in our debates: they are all about trust and whether we can trust the Government to behave in a reasonable way. A lot of the amendments that have been put down have been about trying to ensure that—if I may put it as crudely as this—the Government behave well in carrying out these negotiations. We have seen a kind of emotional blindness, if I may put it that way, in the discussions we have had on immigration systems and physical documents that people who have a right to live here can use. This seems to be another piece of work in which we have to table an amendment to try to ensure that the Government behave properly and well in these negotiations.
It is quite extraordinary. Having agreed these reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU countries and Switzerland so recently, I cannot understand why we should not just be able to use this amendment to ensure that there are no rapid changes. The Government almost seem to forget the huge number of people who in their daily living move for holidays between the other 27 EU countries and Switzerland, as though that does not matter. This is an important part of people’s lives. They book their holidays assuming the system will not change. Particularly after this recent piece of legislation, no one has told them there is a risk that something may change.
The Government are bringing on themselves a mood in which people will be suspicious of what they are up to. They will raise a lot of anxieties totally unnecessarily. In my experience of government, if you allow rumours to be fostered they spread around quite quickly. What we are trying to do with this amendment is to remove the temptation. The Government would be wise to listen, unless the Minister can give a level of assurance that will remove any suspicion that somehow, because of the way they behave, the Government are up to something.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Brinton, for introducing this. As they said, we are basically picking up where we left off in Committee. I was not satisfied with the answer the Minister gave about reciprocal healthcare. As noble Lords have now said, nobody really understands why, when we already have legislation that we considered and passed last March, that does not form part of the negotiation that will take place. I read the letter that the Minister sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and it is very confusing.
I will take a more cynical view of this. A year ago, when we had in front of us the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, it had in it five or six Henry VIII powers. It gave the Secretary of State the power to make a deal about healthcare with anybody in the world they might choose, without any recourse to this Parliament or any accountability. This House wisely changed that into the Bill we passed, now the Act, which does what the Government had said they would do. They said they would not add to the policy arrangements in any area. They would take up the European Union policy and translate it into a way that worked post Brexit. That Bill we had before us a year ago did not do that; it extended the powers incredibly.
I fear that we are seeing a repeat of what the Government tried to do a year ago, so I really need to know from the Minister what powers the Government may take—not what will happen between now and December, but what will happen in a year. What will it look like? Will there be any reciprocal healthcare arrangements? Will there be 27 agreements, which is what the Minister was talking to us about a year ago when we were discussing international healthcare and looking at crashing out of the European Union? What has happened to those 27 agreements? Where have they gone?
As my previous noble friend Lord Warner said—he is still my friend—it is only a matter of time until people become very anxious about this, because not only are people working all the way across Europe, but they are going on holiday all the way across Europe. At the moment, the Department of Health and Social Care’s website is really opaque. It does not give us any clarity at all about what might happen.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to speak to the really important issue of reciprocal healthcare, which touches on a lot of UK and EU citizens’ lives. This House has rightly tested this issue robustly and it is right that we consider it today.
The withdrawal agreement Bill guarantees that reciprocal healthcare arrangements, including for pensioners, workers, students, tourists and other temporary EEA or Swiss visitors, will not be affected during the implementation period. During this time, there will be no change to reciprocal healthcare schemes, such as S1 and EHIC, nor to the S2 route which enables planned treatment. Importantly, I can provide assurance that the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill also guarantees lifelong, reciprocal healthcare entitlements for people so long as they remain within the scope of the citizens’ rights agreements. This includes UK nationals who will have moved to the EU before 31 December 2020, as well as EU citizens who will have become resident in the UK before this time. I hope that that explanation is clearer than my letter.
Last year, as has been mentioned, this House spent a considerable amount of time holding informed and important debates scrutinising the provisions of the then Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Bill. With the permission of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I will call it HESA. We agreed that this was a key piece of legislation, providing the UK with options to implement any future reciprocal healthcare arrangements, subject to negotiation with the EEA states or with Switzerland after the UK leaves the EU. I understand the desire to know the outcome of these negotiations but, as they are obviously in the future, I am not able to give exact details, other than to say we want to ensure the best possible outcomes.
Following that scrutiny and the assent of Parliament…
I thank my noble friend for giving way. A number of us on these Benches are deeply uncomfortable with what we are being told, as she well knows. We are willing to give the Government the benefit of the doubt and we hope that this trust will be repaid. We are talking about people’s health and lives: there really is nothing much more important. Will my noble friend take this back to the department, or can she assure us that there will be full information available to all citizens so that they know about this risk at the end of 2020 and can make the appropriate decisions? None of us knows what is going to happen after the end of this year.
My noble friend Lady Altmann makes a very important point. We have tried to ensure that the information is available and communicated. I am happy to review the clarity of this information and to do everything we can to improve it. My noble friend is absolutely right. We need for anxiety to be at the lowest level and for people to be prepared as possible. I can assure the House that we are doing everything we can to work in the best interests of UK citizens. We understand that there are many in European countries, as well as in the UK, who are looking at this issue with great concern.
I want to get back to the process of scrutinising HESA. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, this established a legal basis for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to fund and give effect to future reciprocal healthcare schemes through its provisions for data sharing and making regulations. It is important to cast our minds back to that debate. This is an implementation Bill; it does not concern the status of the arrangements. In addition, the Government are committed to the effective implementation of the citizens’ rights agreement and the healthcare protections that it provides.
Questions have arisen as a result of my letter, including those raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, last week. I have been asked why there is no mention of reciprocal healthcare in the Bill. This is because individuals within the scope of the withdrawal agreement are entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover from their competent country for as long as they remain so. The rights of EU citizens, EEA, EFTA and Swiss nationals and their family members who reside in the UK before the implementation period, are brought into UK law through Clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill.
I was also asked about Clause 30. This is limited to implementing parts of the agreement on social security co-ordination and to including reciprocal healthcare and EHIC, so it cannot operate in the way in which the noble Baroness was concerned that it might.
Finally, I was asked whether the consequential powers could be used to revert HESA to the original form—with global scope—that it came to this House in. It cannot. The consequential power does not allow for substantive changes to legislation. It will allow the Government to make only smaller, technical amendments for good housekeeping to ensure that legislation is consistent and functions well. It could not be used in the underhand manner that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, thinks we intend. This would be much too substantial a use of the power; it would not be considered an appropriate use of it.
I assure the House that the Government have carefully considered the legislation that has been put before this House. We have taken all possible steps to ensure that we have the necessary powers for reciprocal healthcare, but also that they link in with the withdrawal agreement and the withdrawal agreement Bill to ensure that we have the robust protections they provide for the rights of UK nationals and EU citizens living in the EU and the UK respectively. We have no intention to repeal HESA as a consequence of the withdrawal agreement Bill. Critically, the Act allows the UK to implement the agreements, responding to a range of outcomes in the negotiations with the EU on any future reciprocal healthcare agreements, which we know are likely to come forward.
I know that the noble Baroness tabled the amendment with some of these concerns in mind. I hope that I have answered the questions that have come forward, but this is a routine power to make regulations that are appropriate in consequence of the Bill. I hope that I have answered the way the consequential amendment would be used to respond to the complexity of provisions and the legislative landscape, which we would need to respond to. On that basis, I hope she feels sufficiently reassured to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate that has not, for the most part, been about Clause 41 or the legislation itself, but about health. I guess that that was always what would happen. I am quite happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 21 withdrawn.
Schedule 2: Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements
Amendments 22 to 28 not moved.
Schedule 4: Regulations under this Act
29: Schedule 4, page 68, line 9, leave out from “41(1)” to end of line 10 and insert “may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
My Lords, this is the grand finale of Report stage. If the Chamber is not packed then I am not personally dismayed because we prefer quality to quantity in our debates, do we not?
Subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 41, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, explained just now in the preceding debate, contain “breathtaking” powers, to use her word. The very valuable report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee says that
“clause 41 … contains a Henry VIII power for a Minister of the Crown by regulations to repeal or amend any Act of Parliament passed from time immemorial until the end of the transitional period (the end of 2020) as part of such provision as the Minister considers appropriate in consequence of the Act. Such regulations are made pursuant to the negative procedure.”
That provision for the negative procedure is set out in Schedule 4 on page 68, line 9. It is that point of the Bill that I seek to amend.
Clause 41 and Schedule 4 provide a portmanteau Henry VIII power. It is the ultimate set of Henry VIII powers; you can go no further with such powers than the Government seek to go with these. The Government might seek to defend themselves on the basis that these powers are provided in the context of consequential and transitional provisions, but if the Minister seeks, in the pursuit of the policy set out in the Bill as a whole, to amend primary legislation there is nothing at all in the legislation to inhibit him in any way from doing so.
The Government might also seek to defend themselves on the basis that the courts in practice would construe pretty strictly what powers the Government sought to exercise under these provisions, but we do not want these matters going to the courts. If they do, it takes the courts and judges into political terrain that it would be much better they kept out of.
The Government take powers in Clause 41 to amend or, indeed, repeal any previous enactment up until the end of this year. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, pointed out to us yesterday that a certain provision of Magna Carta was vulnerable under the policy adumbrated in the Bill. I am sure that when he comes to respond, the Minister will explain that he has no intention of repealing Magna Carta. Indeed, we have already been reassured in previous debates that the Government do not intend to use the Henry VIII powers with which they have peppered the Bill to undo the devolution settlements or to pursue other draconian purposes.
However, the Government really have written a constitutional monstrosity into the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said just now, this is a bad and improper precedent. Unless the Government can produce a justification, which I find unimaginable, for the taking of these extravagant powers they should not write them into the Bill at all. As the noble Baroness suggested, in an age of populism it is particularly undesirable that extreme powers be taken casually. It is a proper responsibility of your Lordships’ House to keep an eye on what is going on and, where legislative practice becomes unacceptable, to point it out to the other place.
If Members of Parliament perused the Bill and informed themselves in close detail about it, they might consider that they had been rather insulted. We should certainly give them the opportunity to consider that possibility. Members of Parliament on the Conservative side of the House of Commons might be uneasy about what appears to be in conflict with the Conservative Party’s manifesto. I have taken the precaution of looking at it. In the section entitled “Protect our democracy”, it is asserted:
“As Conservatives, we stand for democracy and the rule of law.”
It goes on to say:
“Once we get Brexit done, Britain will take back control of its laws.”
I do not think that, when voters studied the Conservative Party’s manifesto and Conservative parliamentary candidates took it as their oath of prospective office, they actually thought that taking back control of our laws following Brexit would mean a power grab on the part of the Executive, which is potentially happening.
Ministers have already sought to reassure us. In the debates we held on Clauses 21 and 26, it was insisted that there were no such malign intentions as the legislation would make possible. They wanted to reassure us by pointing out that the regulation-making powers so extensively set out in Clauses 21 and 26 could be exercised only under the affirmative resolution procedure. That is a mitigating circumstance, but it by no means undoes the mischief of taking the Henry VIII powers in the first place.
However, in the letter that he wrote to us, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank, acknowledged that the regulation-making powers it is proposed that the Government should have under Clause 41 would be exercisable under the negative resolution procedure. He gave no explanation or justification for that. I do not know whether this inconsistency in approach and resort to extensive regulation-making powers under the negative procedure at Clause 41 is the result of a drafting error and a mistake, but if it was there will be an opportunity for the Government to amend it.
Following the amendments made by your Lordships’ House, the Bill will go back to the House of Commons. It would be quite easy for the Government to amend it in this regard, and they could do so with no loss of face or dignity. When Governments are flush with electoral success, they have a tendency to swagger. The bigger the majority and the higher the euphoria of electoral success that they feel, the more important it is that they act soberly when legislating and proceed with humility and magnanimity in their dealings with Parliament. Magnanimity is a Latinate word, which I hope will appeal to the Prime Minister, but if humility and magnanimity are too difficult, the Government should at least conduct themselves in relation to Parliament with respect and courtesy. Macho attitudes to legislation make for bad law.
The manifesto goes on to say that
“we… need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts”.
Indeed, our scrutiny of the Bill thus far has indicated that there is a great deal for the Government—and the commission it proposes—to consider in the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts.
The manifesto then goes on to say that the new Government and their commission will want to look at the role of the House of Lords. I hope that Ministers in the other place and Members of Parliament will understand that the traditional constitutional role of your Lordships’ House is to act as an advisory and revising Chamber. The principal way in which the House of Lords offers its advice and proffers its revisions is by way of amendments to legislation. In doing so, your Lordships’ House poses no threat to the Government. There is no lese-majesty. In all the debates we have had on this Bill, it is clear that this House accepts that the Government have a mandate for Brexit. There is no attempt by your Lordships to subvert Brexit and thwart the Government in their purpose of enacting this withdrawal legislation.
It is probably true that since the election and the outstanding victory of the Prime Minister, this House has finally accepted that a Government are in power who want to deliver Brexit. However, that certainly was not true before the election; a very large number of amendments passed by your Lordships’ House then were intended precisely to stop us leaving the EU. They were wrecking amendments which went completely in the face of the decision taken by the people in the referendum.
As the noble Lord knows, I shared some of his frustrations about the last Parliament. However, in the last Parliament this House did not subvert the authority of the elected House but sought to be in consonance with its wishes. I therefore do not think that Members of Parliament need to be concerned —nor did they need to be concerned during the last Parliament—that the House of Lords is a threat to the House of Commons. That plainly is not the case in this Parliament.
Amendment 29 is a moderate amendment. There are two issues. One is the Government’s propensity to take excessive Henry VIII powers. The other is procedure—the manner in which Parliament should approve the regulation-making powers that would be brought forward under this legislation. My amendment does not seek to remove the Henry VIII powers. It does not say that Clause 41 should not stand part. I do not know what the consequences would be for the proper functioning of the legislation if I had sought to achieve that. I have sought to amend the aspect of the Bill dealing with the procedure for adopting regulation-making powers. I hope that the Government accept that it would be appropriate to substitute the affirmative resolution procedure for the negative one. Even then the amendment would not be ideal, because if your Lordships’ House rejected regulation-making powers under the affirmative procedure, there would be howls of protest, as my noble friend Lady Hayter observed earlier in our debates. It would be regarded as a constitutional outrage on the part of your Lordships’ House. At any rate, if the Government are willing to accept this amendment, it will enable Parliament as a whole—both Houses—to express its view on the legislation and, if necessary, for either House to reject any attempt that the Government might make, by way of regulations, to alter the principles of law or to rewrite primary legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment. A few days ago, we discussed Clauses 21 and 26, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, which people called a constitutional outrage. This is far, far worse. As a constitutional issue, Clause 41(1) takes the Government into realms which, in the years that I have been in this House, I have never seen before.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, set out most of what I wanted to say, putting it rather better than I would have. There is not a great deal else to say, but if the Government are going to say, as I am sure they will, that they do not propose to use these powers, other than to a very limited extent, the short answer to that, speaking as a lawyer, is, “Why have them here?” Why put something so unbelievably wide, which could apply to any law enacted in the past until the end of this year, into the withdrawal Bill if they do not intend to use it?
As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, it is not his—or my—intention to get rid of this objectionable clause but purely to alleviate it, so that if the Government require to make such provision in consequence of the Bill, at least we can look at it. If the Commons can get over its majority of 80, it could look more critically at the legislation to see whether it is really what is wanted and look, with the affirmative resolution, at what is being offered by the Government. Therefore, I support the amendment. It needs to be brought forward to both this House and the other place, because this Clause 41 really is beyond belief.
My Lords, we have reached the final amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for their comments and for setting out their positions. I understand the concern of noble Lords about the parliamentary procedure attached to the consequential power in Clause 41. We have already noted these concerns; noble Lords in other debates have raised them and we all read closely the reports of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee. I addressed many of these points last week, when I spoke to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I hope today to provide similar reassurances to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. I agree with so many of his points on EU withdrawal, although perhaps not this one.
As noble Lords are aware, consequential powers are standard provisions in legislation, even legislation of great constitutional significance, such as the Scotland Act. If noble Lords look at Schedule 5 to the Bill, they will see that we have already included many of the consequential amendments required as a result of the Act. However, we also believe that we need a power to make further consequential provisions to the statute book.
I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, yesterday asked for assurance about why the consequential power in Clause 41 is subject to the negative procedure. I understand the noble Lord’s concern but reiterate that the power is limited to making amendments that are consequential to the contents of the Act. Its scope is very different from the powers discussed over the last 10 days by my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Duncan, which will be used to implement the withdrawal agreement. It is in everyone’s interest that the statute book functions effectively. Moving the consequential provision to the affirmative procedure would frustrate the ability of departments to make the necessary consequential changes before exit day and could lead to legal uncertainty. I hope noble Lords agree with me that this is not the appropriate course of action.
This procedure is limited to giving Ministers the power to make regulations that are in consequence of the Act, like consequential powers in many other pieces of primary legislation. This power will be construed strictly by the courts. It can be used only to make amendments that are appropriate to legislation in consequence of something that the Act does. I am sure noble Lords agree that the use of the negative procedure does not prevent parliamentary scrutiny taking place. Members of this House will still have the opportunity to pray against regulations, should they consider them inappropriate, as is usual for regulations of this kind. I hope I have provided the necessary reassurances to the noble Lord and that, as a consequence, he is able to withdraw his amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has not provided me with the reassurance I seek. In my earlier remarks, I anticipated the arguments that he would offer about why we can be relaxed about these powers being taken and believe him when he says that the scope would be minimal. That is not the case. I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for speaking as a most distinguished lawyer. She encourages me, in my legal amateurism, to believe that I am on the right track. I think I am. I hope that, even overnight, the Minister may be willing to reflect further on this, and that the Government will accept the amendment. It would be in earnest to the magnanimity on the part of the Government that I venture to hope might manifest.
For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a matter that we will reflect on further. Therefore, if the noble Lord wishes to pursue his amendment, he needs to test the opinion of the House.
I also hoped that the Government might want to demonstrate their good intentions towards their future constitutional behaviour, but there it is; we cannot win every battle. Maybe, in the watches of the night, the Minister will repent and reconsider. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 29 withdrawn.