My Lords, a limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak; please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. I remind the House that our normal courtesies in debate still very much apply in this new hybrid way of working.
I begin by setting out how these proceedings will work. A participants’ list for today’s proceedings has been published and is in my brief, which Members will have received. I also have lists of Members who have put their names to the amendments in each group, or expressed an interest in speaking on them. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Members’ microphones will be muted by the broadcasters except when I call a Member to speak. Interventions during speeches or before a noble Lord sits down are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard. Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once on each group. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged; a Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk.
Debate will take place on the lead amendment in each group only; the groupings are binding and it will not be possible to de-group an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should give notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
Clause 1: Implementation of the 1996, 2005 and 2007 Hague Conventions
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 6, at end insert—
“3CA The 2000 Hague Convention to have the force of lawThe Convention on the International Protection of Adults concluded on 13 January 2000 at The Hague shall have the force of law in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland.”
I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of an amendment and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press an amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
My Lords, the amendment follows on from my contribution at Second Reading on 17 March. I tabled an identical amendment in Committee but withdrew it from the Marshalled List, having been invited to a further meeting with the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie. At the outset, I express my thanks and appreciation to him, his officials and his Bill team for their constructive—and, I hope, productive —engagement with me since before Second Reading.
Basically, the purpose of the amendment is something akin to jurisdictional catch-up. It seeks to give force of law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to the provisions of Hague Convention 35 of 13 January 2000 on the International Protection of Adults. Section 85 of and Schedule 3 to the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, which I had the privilege to sponsor in the earliest days of the Scottish Parliament, paved the way for ratification of the Hague Convention by the UK Government in respect of Scotland in November 2003.
The convention is intended to give support to vulnerable adults who, by reason of impairment or insufficiency of personal faculties, need legal protection, specifically when there are interests in different international jurisdictions. For example, the convention can determine: which court has jurisdiction in relation to protective measures; the law to be applied in particular circumstances; and the establishment of central authorities, which can locate vulnerable adults, give information on the status of vulnerable persons to other authorities and facilitate mutual recognition of relevant orders.
In supporting ratification, the briefing from the Law Society of England and Wales states:
“Due to not being party to the convention, England and Wales does not have a central authority to issue the relevant certificates of authority for powers of attorney to act outside the jurisdiction. This gives rise to unnecessary difficulties in relation to the protection of overseas property and welfare by attorneys and deputies who have been appointed to protect potentially vulnerable people.”
I believe that there is a compelling case for ratification in respect of all parts of the United Kingdom. In this way, those resident in Glamorgan, Gloucester or Belfast will be on comparable terms to citizens in Glasgow or Banff in relation to recognition and enforcement of relevant court orders in 2000 convention contracting states. One might say that it would be a good example of levelling up.
Indeed, the primary legislation to give effect to the convention provisions is already in place for England and Wales through Section 63 of and Schedule 3 to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and, in the case of Northern Ireland, through Section 283 of and Schedule 9 to the Mental Capacity (Northern Ireland) Act 2016. It would be helpful if, in his reply, the Minister could give an indication not only of the Government’s intentions but of discussions with the Northern Ireland authorities. Given that the Assembly passed the 2016 legislation, I hope that progress toward ratification for Northern Ireland can also proceed.
The long-overdue ratification of this convention would be beneficial for vulnerable adults and those who support them in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I commend the amendment to the House and I am hopeful that the case for ratification will commend itself to the Minister. I beg to move.
My Lords, I fully support the amendment moved by my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness. It is plainly an anomaly that the 2000 Hague Convention does not at this stage apply throughout the United Kingdom. The inclusion of the convention in Clause 1 will achieve this. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment to achieve the end that my noble and learned friend seeks.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, makes a very strong case. It is extraordinary that this has not yet been incorporated into the law of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord, the Minister, will explain why that is not the case and, at the very least, give us a timetable for it becoming part of our domestic law.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, not only for his contribution to the debate but for engaging with my officials and me on this matter.
As noted, the amendment seeks to deal with the ratification of the 2000 Hague Convention on the International Protection of Adults in respect of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Of course, the United Kingdom has ratified this convention, but the extent of this is limited to Scotland. I am pleased to confirm to the noble and learned Lord that it is our intention to extend the ratification of this convention to England and Wales. Discussions have commenced with officials in Northern Ireland to ascertain whether the Northern Ireland Executive would require the extension to apply to Northern Ireland.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 largely implements the convention and contains powers to make any additional provision required. Schedule 3 to that Act provides for the recognition and enforcement in England and Wales of protective measures made in respect of vulnerable adults by the courts of other contracting states. Some Schedule 3 provisions are already in force and some will come into force upon ratification, at which point reciprocal recognition of domestic protective measures by other states will also come into effect. There remain some outstanding matters that require further implementation; largely, additional operational arrangements for the location or placement of vulnerable adults as between contracting states.
It is the Government’s view that the most appropriate way to implement these remaining matters is to make any additional provision required in or under the 2005 Act, using the powers provided for in that Act for this specific purpose. We will proceed with this as soon as we reasonably can, taking account of the need to take the Northern Ireland Executive with us if it is their wish that the matter be extended to Northern Ireland. In these circumstances, I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw this amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend and the noble and learned Lords who contributed to this debate for their support for what I seek to achieve by it. I thank the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General for Scotland for his positive response, and for his clear and unequivocal commitment to ratification. I recognise that there is already in place a substantial body of primary legislation in the 2005 Act, which will allow that to proceed. I very much hope that the engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive will continue, so that when ratification takes place it can apply to the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom. On that basis, I seek leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 2: Implementation of other agreements on private international law
2: Clause 2, leave out Clause 2
My Lords, this is the main amendment on Report. It seeks to leave out Clause 2, which gives the appropriate Minister, whether in the devolved Administrations or in central government, the power subsequently to introduce changes to domestic law, including changes incidental to international treaties made with foreign countries, on the basis that domestic law should be changed because that has been agreed with a foreign country. In addition, it allows the Executive to introduce by secondary legislation changes to domestic law to give effect to model laws, for example in relation to insolvency. We oppose that extension of executive power. We believe that it represents a very substantial break with past practice, which requires treaties dealing with private international law to be introduced and change our domestic law by primary legislation, and we will press this issue to a Division.
I will set out briefly the way that we put our case in relation to this. Clause 1 gives effect, as part of the domestic law of this country, to three international agreements. The first is the 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Cooperation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children. This convention aims to improve the protection of children in cross-border disputes. It is a thoroughly good thing; it makes significant changes, or gives effect to significant powers, in the UK family courts.
The second is the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, which aims to ensure the effectiveness of exclusive choice of court agreements between parties to international commercial transactions. These clauses are common, particularly in high-value commercial contracts. Again, this is a good convention; it makes changes to UK domestic law and we support its incorporation.
The third is the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and other Forms of Family Maintenance, which provides for rules for the international recovery of child support and spousal maintenance. Again, it is a good thing and makes significant changes to domestic law. We support the incorporation into our law of these three conventions; it is being done in the normal way, namely by primary legislation.
Clause 2 is intended to apply to all subsequent private international law agreements, whether identified at the moment or not. It is a new clause and a new constitutional power; this has not been done before. From time to time— with, if I may say so, considerable feebleness—the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General sought to suggest that it was not a change in the law and referred to the 1933 and 1920 Acts on the administration of justice. Those Acts allowed new countries, whether in the Commonwealth or outside it, to be joined to a convention for the enforcement of foreign judgments which had been introduced by primary legislation. He did not make his case at all. If and in so far as the Minister had other material, he could have placed it before the Constitution Committee. It rejected his argument, saying:
“This is a significant new power that would change the way this type of international agreement is implemented in UK law and how Parliament scrutinises them. It therefore needs careful consideration.”
He has laid no material before the Chamber to suggest that this is not a new means of making domestic law consistent with international agreements. This House should proceed on the basis that it is a new way of doing it.
The Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee have considered whether this secondary legislating power should be granted, and both are very clear that it should not. The Constitution Committee said:
“We are not persuaded by the arguments the Government has made in support of this power. If the balance between the executive and Parliament is to be altered in respect of international agreements, it should be in favour of greater parliamentary scrutiny and not more executive power.”
The Constitution Committee goes on in paragraph 25 of its report:
“The clause 2 powers are a matter of significant constitutional concern. It is inappropriate for a whole category of international agreements to be made purely by delegated legislation. Such an approach risks undermining legal certainty.”
In saying that, that committee had in mind that if they are introduced by secondary legislation, even though they may have a significant effect on domestic law, those changes to domestic law are nevertheless subject to being set aside by judicial review.
The Constitution Committee also rejected the idea that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act—CRAG, as it called—provided for sufficient debate. It described that power as flawed and inadequate and pointed out that it did not, in any event, apply to model laws. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reached the same conclusion, saying that
“clause 2 represents an inappropriate delegation of power and we recommend that it should be removed from the face of the Bill”.
In our respectful submission, we should not allow Clause 2 and it should be removed. The only argument the Minister advanced was in relation not to the overall power but to the Lugano convention. I had a conversation with him recently in which I asked whether he would be restricting the power to Lugano. If he had said that he was going to restrict the Clause 2 power to Lugano and otherwise ditch it, the House should have considered that. However, he made it absolutely clear to me that he wanted the full power. In those circumstances, we had no option but to table an amendment deleting Clause 2 altogether. It is constitutionally inappropriate and unnecessary, and it leads to legal uncertainty. It has nothing whatever to recommend it. I beg to move Amendment 2.
My Lords, I agree with the points made so forcefully by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. My concern about the width of Clause 2 arises from the discussions and conclusions on this Bill in your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, of which I am a member. The noble and learned Lord has already mentioned the relevant paragraphs of our report, HL Paper 55, which we published on 4 May, and perhaps I may add very briefly to what he has said.
The Constitution Committee recognised that many of the international agreements to which Clause 2 would apply are technical in nature, and it recognised that the text of an international agreement cannot easily be changed, or be changed at all, after negotiations have concluded—points emphasised at various stages by the Minister. However, we take the view that that is no justification for allowing the law of this country to be changed by statutory instrument in this context without full parliamentary debate. That is because important policy decisions might arise in this context both on whether to implement an international agreement in domestic law and on the manner in which such an agreement is to be implemented.
International agreements often recognise a discretion for signatory states on a variety of matters, some of them of considerable policy interest and concern. Those policy decisions should be the subject of detailed debate and possible amendment of a Bill on the Floor of the House—or whatever the remote equivalent of the Floor of the House is. Those policy decisions should not be for Ministers to decide by unamendable regulations in relation to which there can be only limited debate.
I emphasise that this is not emergency legislation; it is a proposal from the Government for a permanent shift in power to the Executive. In Committee, the Minister did not make out any case for such a change in the law. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, divides the House, he will have my support.
My Lords, the matter has been so fully covered by the speeches already made that I have little to add, other than my full support for what has been said. However, I wish to emphasise three points.
First, the devolution arrangements in this clause have always troubled me. I refer to what I see as a lack of clarity about whether it is the Scottish Ministers or the Secretary of State who will exercise the powers referred to in Clause 2(1) in relation to “implementing” the international agreement on the one hand and “applying” it on the other. This is an indication, surely, that the Bill is seeking to crowd too much into this clause. It would be far better to leave these matters to primary legislation according to the ordinary and well-understood rules as to which legislature is to deal with what, according to what is reserved and what is not.
Secondly, the umbrella phrase “any international agreement”—I stress the word “any”—indicates that it is intended to catch a wide variety of international transactions relating to private international law. At present, leaving aside Lugano, we have no idea of what they might be. It seems likely, however, that they will not be many, but any one of them could be very important and raise issues which should not be left to the exercise of Executive power. The pressure on Parliament if we were to proceed by way of a Public Bill in the ordinary way and not by way of statutory instrument would be quite limited. Therefore, it is hard to see why we have to go down this road at all.
Thirdly, there is no sunset clause in the Bill. I could understand it if it had been intended to deal only with measures that needed to be in force before the end of the implementation period or measures that were otherwise urgent and short term, but, without such a clause, this Bill is entirely open ended. Committing all international agreements to the statutory instrument procedure at Westminster and in the devolved legislatures as a permanent feature of our law, whatever the political situation might be, seems to be highly undesirable.
My Lords, I speak in support of my noble and learned friend. He will recall that in Committee, when we debated this matter briefly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, laid down a challenge. He said that those who are in government are in favour of secondary legislation but, when they are in opposition, they are against it. I think that the case has been made this afternoon very clearly that this is an extension of the way in which Governments apply secondary legislation, and the Constitution Committee and Delegated Powers Committee have reinforced that very strongly.
As a politician—I am not a lawyer, although I am in the company of distinguished lawyers—I am reminded of the kinds of proposals that used to be brought before Labour Party conferences in the 1980s. A number of rather sensible measures—my noble and learned friend mentioned the 1996, 2005 and 2007 measures—are completely undermined by something highly controversial and unnecessary which is thrown in.
We are dealing with this matter in our virtual Parliament and seeking to find a way through. I hope that, as this amendment to delete this clause is pushed to a vote, the Government will think again and be prepared to attend to the major issues, rather than push through an extension of delegated power, including to complementary and associated measures and model laws, as has been described. We could then have wholehearted agreement.
I too support this amendment. In the light of what has been said by the noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have already spoken, I can confine my remarks to a very few sentences.
Essentially, the constitutional position is one of long standing and should not be changed without justification. That justification has to be seen in the context of a significant move towards Bills becoming more of a framework and with more being done by secondary legislation. We should take a firm stand that that should happen only where necessary. No justification has been put forward for it being necessary. For example, most international conventions and model laws are negotiated at a glacial pace. There can rarely be any justification for the need for legislation to be implemented quickly.
I should add that of course there might have been an exception in the case of Lugano but, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has already explained, that could have been dealt with. Of course, it is a convention that many lawyers in the UK want and hope that we shall accede to in the interests of the UK economy and of the position of London, but the Minister has taken the view that the clause cannot be confined to that. In those circumstances, I fully support, and will support in a Division, the amendment put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
My Lords, I want first to say how privileged I am to be sandwiched in the list between two noble and learned Lord Thomases, emanating as I do from the junior branch of the legal profession. I ask my noble and learned friend the Minister, as I did in Committee, to affirm, in the light of the impending Brexit deal or no deal, his full support for the power of English law internationally and, indeed, for the jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales. We have a unique gem here, which can not only speak to our international role but, as he knows, can be of such benefit to so many private international deals; this can only be built upon. I urge him to take every opportunity to push the positivity around English law and the jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
Secondly, I ask the Minister, in the most delicate and humble way: if Brexit was all about repatriating powers to Parliament, how does the current Clause 2 sit with that aim?
The Government’s position appears to be that the incorporation into domestic law of the terms of a treaty, or of an international agreement involving private international law, should not require any detailed scrutiny by Parliament. The Government’s reasoning is that the time for stakeholders to make representations is before the international agreement is made. Once the rules have been agreed, they say, a Minister has little or no discretion to exercise in framing the requisite statutory instrument. It is all over and there is no need for any shouting.
This would be all very well if we could have the slightest confidence that the negotiations of that agreement were transparent; but we have seen in the Brexit negotiations a complete lack of transparency. Many times, pleas were made to Ministers to outline our negotiating position. “Oh, we couldn’t do that,” the Minister would reply, “because that would undermine our bargaining position.”
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, in his response of 17 April to the report of the Delegated Powers Committee, said:
“As the UK develops its wider trading policy with the EU and rest of the world, agreements on private international law will be key to supporting cross-border commerce by providing businesses, investors and consumers with greater confidence that disputes across borders can be resolved in a clear and efficient way.”
This surely underlines the importance of the issues that we are discussing today. The question of jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments is crucial. Just because the word “private” is attached in the title to “international law”, it should not be thought that we are concerned merely with family disputes and the enforcement of access to children or maintenance orders in different jurisdictions. Important as those issues undoubtedly are, the significance of these provisions goes very much to the heart of rebuilding our economy and regaining our leading trading position in the world, not least in the provision of financial and legal services. For example, in the current negotiations concerning our leaving the European Union, with or without a trade deal, one stumbling block appears to be the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. For 40 years, we have accepted its jurisdiction and an analysis of its judgments demonstrates the overwhelming success of British lawyers before that court. We have lost very few contested cases and settled others very satisfactorily on agreed terms.
Jurisdiction is important. I cannot see why the Prime Minister thinks that the European Union is likely in these current negotiations to accept the British rejection of the European Court of Justice as a tribunal for resolving disputes, but that it will accept our Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter. Such an approach seems to me to be in cloud-cuckoo-land.
Where there are critical issues such as jurisdiction to be resolved, obviously it is wholly inadequate to tell business and other stakeholders that they may make their case only before the details of a treaty or agreement emerge into the light of day. As for Parliament, do we have the slightest idea of the detailed negotiating position in these current talks? What possible contribution can parliamentarians make to the rules of our future trade with Europe, which may emerge by the end of October or by Christmas Day?
Government negotiators should have to bear in mind that any agreement or treaty they may enter into will require full analysis and debate in Parliament before being given the full endorsement of incorporation into domestic law. I was disappointed, as was the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, by the gloomy comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, in Committee. In effect, he said that we all agree in principle to parliamentary accountability, but in government, the reality is that the only consideration is time—getting the business over and done with. It was interesting that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, in his letter to the Committee, used the expression “in a timely manner” no fewer than five times, and with something of a Homeric ring. Come to think of it, the Prime Minister might pin on his wall in No. 10 the Greek motto of the Roman emperor Augustus: “speude bradeos”, or “hasten slowly”.
Suetonius wrote of Augustus:
“Nihil autem minus perfecto duci quam festinationem temeritatemque convenire arbitrabatur”,
meaning, “He thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness.” Well, Augustus was a pretty successful politician. He really did rule the whole of the known world.
My Lords, I declare my interest in the field of private international law and arbitration. I am also chair of the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Private International Law, which was not involved in the Bill generally but has, since Second Reading, been asked to advise on the subject of the government amendments to Schedule 5, which we will come to later and which the committee blessed. I have nothing to add on Clause 1, which is admirable and conventional. On Clause 2, I am grateful personally to the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General for Scotland for engaging with me, but I regret that his response strikes me as a little like that of the Black Knight in the Monty Python sketch; having lost the arms and legs of his argument, he still comes forward with the Bill—particularly Clause 2—between his teeth.
Opinion is almost universally against Clause 2. The two committees that have reported have categorically condemned it. The argument based on the existence of CRaG 2010 has been described by the Constitution Committee as limited and flawed, and I will come back to that. The speeches at Second Reading and in Committee were almost unanimously against Clause 2. One wonders, as the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Holmes of Richmond, have hinted, why this House exists as a revising Chamber at all if such universal adverse opinion is ignored.
It is true that Parliament generally has not had a major role in private international law since we became an EU state but, as noble Lords have pointed out, one thought that the purpose of recent events was to restore UK institutions to a fuller role. There is no real explanation or justification for Clause 2, an indefinite provision without a sunset clause, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope has just pointed out.
Private international law is important, both to individuals personally, in areas such as divorce and family, and to businesses. It merits direct parliamentary scrutiny. The Government’s justification for Clause 2 is simply that it would be very convenient and might speed things up. The same reasoning would justify removing any role for Parliament at all, just leaving it to bless by affirmative order on a yes/no basis any subordinate legislation devised by the Executive.
As my noble friend Lord Pannick pointed out, the prior Acts relied on do not justify this large extension. The 1920 and 1933 Acts were confined in scope to recognise jurisdictions, starting with Her Majesty’s overseas jurisdictions and then other comparable foreign jurisdictions, and were limited to recognition and enforcement of judgments only. We are concerned in this Bill with wide-ranging schemes such as those we will lose the benefit of at the end of the implementation period for allocation of jurisdiction, dealing with things such as concurrent proceedings in two states. These are very controversial issues.
Although by itself the Lugano convention may well be the best we can go for in the present state, it merits parliamentary debate. There are defects in the Lugano convention compared with our present state of affairs as a member of the EU. There are very considerable questions whether one might not be better off with other arrangements. Still, while one might have accepted Lugano alone, the wide-ranging nature of Clause 2 means that it applies to anything indefinitely in the future.
The only things actually suggested are Lugano and passing references to the Singapore mediation convention, which is an extremely minor area of the law—it is important when mediation occurs, but there is probably no difficulty in any event enforcing mediation results under present domestic law. There is also the 2019 Hague Convention, which has many merits but is in complete infancy. It has only two signatories: Uruguay and Ukraine. That is a long way down the road. There is no urgency. There are no model laws pointed to, even if it were desirable to give the Government this power in respect of model laws. As my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said a moment ago, private international law measures proceed at glacial pace.
I revert to the position on CRaG: quite apart from the inadequacy of its procedures, reliance on CRaG is fallacious for two reasons. The Explanatory Notes say that everything will already have been scrutinised by CRaG before domestic legislation takes place; Parliament will already, through CRaG, have agreed that the UK should join. That is not right; it is the wrong way round. Normally—this was practice until today—domestic legislation is enacted before ratification, and CRaG comes into operation only at ratification. There are a number of examples of that; in the case of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act, the convention was 1978, the domestic Act was 1982 and ratification was one or two years later. There is the same pattern with the Warsaw convention and the CMR convention on the carriage of goods by road. The domestic legislation preceded ratification by six years for the Warsaw convention and two years for the CMR convention, I think. CRaG does not help for that reason.
CRaG also does not help for a different reason: ratification may be subject, like signature, to reservations or declarations which are permitted by the relevant international agreement or are not inconsistent with its object and purpose. That is Article 19 of the Vienna convention of 1969. It is not therefore merely a question of whether to implement or the manner in which to implement domestically, as my noble friend Lord Pannick suggested. There are huge questions at the level of international law about what declarations or reservations to make, or there can be.
A good example of that is the 2019 Hague Convention itself. That will be a jurisdiction convention, and it will raise questions about in what areas we should agree to accept other countries’ judgments. Do we exclude judgments when they affect UK residents on both sides, exclude any other area, or exclude judgments abroad given against UK officers of state? Most importantly of all, which foreign states’ judgments do we recognise? Will we accept under the 2019 convention judgments from Russia or from China? Those are big questions, which certainly merit parliamentary debate.
I join the opposition to Clause 2 and simply add that there are ancillary objections to it: its non-exhaustive definition of private international law, its inclusion of a reference to arbitral awards, which has not been satisfactorily explained, and its inclusion of a reference to penal provisions, to which we will come later. The fundamental objection remains to erosion of Parliament’s proper realm.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment, which I support wholeheartedly. I will be relatively brief because I set out my reasons at some length in Committee, and because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and all other noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have spoken have argued the case so persuasively.
To give private international law treaties the force of domestic law is not a trivial rubber-stamping exercise. It may involve significant and complex law in relation to treaty implementation and enforcement provisions. Those were points well made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance. It is not just the breadth of the possible future treaties that might be affected by this clause but the sheer unpredictability of such treaties that we may consider in future. There is no way that that is defined or limited satisfactorily by the provisions of the Bill.
There is also a strong argument that this clause would open the way to the Executive further usurping the role of Parliament in an extension of what has been widely and rightly criticised as a thoroughly unwelcome trend for Parliament to have its role circumscribed by delegation of powers to the Executive. This type of argument is often dismissed as a “floodgates” or “thin end of the wedge” argument, because it is said to ignore the detail of the particular case under consideration. However, these arguments are real and, given the respect that we rightly pay to precedent in our constitutional discussions and in the context of our having an unwritten constitution, such arguments deserve to be taken seriously. If private international law treaties today, why not other international treaties tomorrow and a still less constrained role for the Executive further down the line?
No matter how often Ministers say that the availability of the affirmative resolution procedure or even the super-affirmative procedure gives Parliament a right to scrutinise and vote down delegated legislation, we all know the reality: that unamendable regulations are extremely difficult in practice to get changed, withdrawn or rejected as a result of parliamentary scrutiny. That is why removing this clause from the Bill is so important.
A particularly pernicious aspect of this clause is the power to create new criminal offences by regulation, even those carrying sentences of imprisonment. One can foresee that enforcement in particular of international treaty obligations may indeed involve criminal sanctions against non-compliant individuals. We may return to this with Amendment 10, if that turns out to be necessary. However, it would be far better for us to get rid of Clause 2 altogether—a change we may just succeed in holding when the Bill goes to the Commons.
I also remind the House of the important point, made in the Constitution Committee’s report, that regulations are amenable to judicial review and so could be challenged in the courts. Clause 2 would risk the unattractive position that, having entered into international obligations by treaty and Ministers having passed regulations to give them the force of domestic law and to enable compliance and enforcement, the courts would then be entitled to quash those regulations if they were challenged. That would be seriously unsatisfactory.
The Constitution Committee rested its argument on the valid ground of legal uncertainty. I add that such a position would undermine us internationally, further damaging our reputation for being good for our word and bringing our democratic legal processes into disrepute. This is an important point, but I wind up by saying that it is a subsidiary reason for removing Clause 2. The central point is the point of principle on which I suggest the House has a constitutional duty to vote this clause down.
My Lords, we debated Clause 2 at great length at Second Reading and in Committee, and I note the further observations made by noble, and noble and learned, Lords with regard to the issue. As I have explained, the Bill is about implementing in domestic law treaties that we have already determined to join. Parliament will be afforded scrutiny under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—CRaG—process prior to ratification. If it is not content, ratification will not occur.
While I acknowledge that there are differing views as to how effective CRaG has been to this point, it is perhaps important to recognise that, as of 28 January this year, Parliament has decided to strengthen its procedures around the CRaG process by agreeing to create a new sub-committee of the European Union Committee to focus on treaties laid under the procedure. This should provide additional opportunities for scrutiny in this area. The Government look forward to engaging with the committee on these matters. I note the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, but I observe that ratification will ultimately be a matter for Parliament before implementation of an international agreement could ever take place.
Furthermore, as with other powers to implement international agreements by way of secondary legislation that exist in the fields of, for example, taxation or social security, we are talking about private international law agreements that are, by their nature, quite technical in their terms. The details of any rules contained in these sorts of agreements will already have been determined at the international level and are usually, by their very nature, clear and precise. The power seeks to allow Ministers to bring forward regulations to effectively implement rules that have been agreed with our international partners and to bring them into domestic law.
It is our view that the level of scrutiny afforded to the implementation of new agreements on private international law is reasonable and proportionate. The implementation of any such agreements would require an affirmative statutory instrument. Noble Lords will be aware that affirmative SI debates in this place are often very thorough, as they should be. There is no reason to suppose that there would be anything other than rigorous debate on the issue of implementation, just as there would be regarding ratification under CRaG.
It was argued in Committee and touched on this afternoon that there was a risk, under our approach, of a statutory instrument made under Clause 2 being struck down as non-compliant with, for example, the Human Rights Act 1998. Of course, that is true of any secondary legislation that the Government bring forward. However, the risk in respect of private international law agreements is not likely to be great. Indeed, I struggle to envisage a situation where the United Kingdom and its international partners would collectively agree a private international law treaty that was not compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.
It remains the view of the Government that, in spite of the concerns raised, this power is necessary if we are to achieve our objective of building on the United Kingdom’s leadership role in private international law in the years to come. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, mentioned the importance of the choice of English law and jurisdiction, and if we are going to maintain that important role, we must ensure that we are in a position to move effectively—and that may mean rapidly—in the implementation of private international law agreements. That would allow us to make the most of the competence that will return to us at the end of the transition period.
As has been noted by noble Lords and noble and learned Lords, in the immediate term we have specific concerns about accession to the Lugano Convention 2007, and there are further issues with regard to other conventions that have been mentioned. We may not know the outcome of the United Kingdom’s application to accede to the Lugano Convention for some months, and we cannot implement this convention unless and until the terms of our accession are agreed with the existing contracting parties, including the European Union. So there is a very real concern that there will not be sufficient parliamentary time for bespoke primary legislation to be drafted and taken through Parliament before the end of the transition period. That would mean a delay in our ability to implement the Lugano Convention, with serious adverse effects on United Kingdom businesses, individuals and families with regard to cross-border disputes after the end of the transition period.
Beyond the implementation of Lugano, the power is essential also, in our view, for future private international law agreements. Mention was made of the Singapore Convention on Mediation and the 2019 Hague Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgements in Civil or Commercial Matters. I acknowledge, as a number of noble and learned Lords observed, that the pace with which such conventions proceed can be relatively slow, but as and when there is the necessary conclusion and ratification, it may be necessary to find appropriate time in which to ensure implementation in domestic law. If that is not possible by way of primary legislation, we are liable to find ourselves at a distinct disadvantage in that respect.
The extension of this to the matter of arbitration was also mentioned, I believe by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance. The rules on recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards do of course fall within the definition of private international law. We recognise the success of the New York Convention, and that arbitration more broadly is an important matter approached by reference to that convention. The Government are not planning any change to our approach to arbitration, nor are we aware of any planned updates to the New York Convention, which is the leading international instrument in this area. We acknowledge that arbitration is a sensitive area, and that the current arrangements work well. I reassure noble Lords that, if there were any changes to the current arrangements for arbitration, that would be a matter on which we would consult extensively.
I return to the matter of precedent, which was touched on by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. It has been argued that taking a delegated power of this sort is unprecedented. However, we do not accept this. Our approach to Clause 2 broadly reflects the way in which we have implemented private international law agreements in recent years as an EU member state, under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. Delegated powers have been taken to implement international agreements on private international law and in other contexts. That has been touched on already.
Of course, there are more recent instances—for example, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, raised the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which contains extensive and important delegated powers in this area, concerning the ratification of the 2000 Hague Convention on the International Protection of Adults, and the extension and ratification of that for England and Wales.
The 2005 Act was, of course, passed by a previous Labour Government, and was introduced at Second Reading in this House on 10 January 2005 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in his capacity as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs at the time. This is an example of primary legislation that contains powers—Henry VIII powers—to make regulations to give further effect to a private international law agreement, in this instance Hague 2000, as well as other broad general powers to otherwise make regulations. Indeed, as Schedule 3 to the 2005 Act says:
“Regulations may make provision … otherwise about the private international law of England and Wales in relation to the protection of adults”
“may … make provision about countries other than Convention countries.”
I wish we had thought of such broad powers when we were drafting this Bill.
When, at Report stage of the Bill that became the 2005 Act, the then Government had the opportunity to explain the delegated powers that they required under that Act, they explained their rationale as follows:
“These regulations provide us with flexibility, allowing us to amend the Bill in the light of developments with the Hague Convention on the International Protection of Adults, once the convention has come into force”.—[Official Report, 17/3/05; col. 1551.]
That echoes observations made in Committee on behalf of this Government with regard to these delegated powers. I appreciate that they are less wide-ranging than those embraced by Schedule 3 to the 2005 Act, but they are nevertheless there to allow flexibility, so that we can keep pace with international developments in areas of law as relevant today as they were in 2005.
I appreciate that is perhaps not uncommon for some to undergo a damascene conversion on the road from government to opposition but, with respect, it appears to me that a power seen as essential for flexibility in 2005—a power that we now see would be applied consequent on the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, to ratify the 2000 convention in England and Wales—is one which we can properly consider appropriate in other contexts.
In summary, while I note the concerns raised about this power, for the reasons that I have sought to set out I do not accept that it is without precedent or, indeed, disproportionate. We consider it necessary and important. It is essential if we are to maintain our position as an appropriate jurisdiction and choice of law. I therefore urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I am obliged to every noble Lord and noble and learned Lord who has spoken in this debate. I have never been present when every single speaker has been against the Government, though when I heard the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, it was possible to understand why. He appeared to have failed completely to understand the basis of the objection to Clause 2. The basis of that objection is that the clause is wrong as a matter of principle and constitutes a change in our constitutional practice by allowing significant changes to be made in domestic law simply because we have agreed them with a foreign country.
At no stage did the Minister address that argument. Indeed, he advanced arguments which at some stages he had advanced previously but not with any degree of enthusiasm, in particular the argument that it was “essential” for the Government to have this power to remain a significant force in commercial law and financial and legal services. When one is a law officer, it is obviously okay to put forward entirely implausible political arguments—people can make their own judgment about them. These arguments went very close to the line in relation to the law. When asked to provide some justification for arguing precedent for this measure, the Minister did two things. First, he referred to EU law. It is hard to know what his answer is to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond; I thought that the whole point of leaving the EU was to avoid powers of this very sort. He then referred to the 2005 Act bringing into force the convention in relation to vulnerable adults. He appeared not to have spotted that that was primary legislation giving effect to an international convention.
The Minister finally said that the Government would consult; for example, on arbitration. Is there any point in paying respect to that remark, when every single person in the Lords is opposed to Clause 2 and the Government have simply ignored it?
I am disappointed by what the noble and learned Lord has said, but, sadly, not surprised. I beg leave to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 2.
17 June 2020
Division conducted remotely on Amendment 2
Amendment 2 agreed.View Details
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 3. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 4: Extent, commencement and short title
Amendment 3 not moved.
4: Clause 4, page 4, line 18, leave out “Except as provided by subsection (3),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on another amendment which omits subsection (3).
My Lords, Clause 1 implements important Hague private international law conventions, including the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements and the 2007 Hague Convention on the international recovery of child support. These six government amendments aim to provide a clearer and simpler approach to the implementation of the transitional provisions in the 2005 and 2007 conventions. In particular, they aim to make further amendments to the 2018 EU exit SIs which were originally made in respect of the 2005 and 2007 conventions in the event of a non-negotiated withdrawal from the EU.
The Government are bringing forward these amendments following correspondence on the Bill from stakeholders and from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance. There was concern that the approach set out in Schedule 5 to the Bill was causing uncertainty for stakeholders. The approach involved continuing to rely on the transitional provisions of the EU exit SIs, which themselves relied on the saving of rights and obligations under Section 4 of the EU Withdrawal Act 2018. Concerns were also expressed about inconsistencies between the EU exit SIs and the transitional provisions of the conventions, to which the Bill gives legal effect under Clause 1. Furthermore, it was considered helpful to make it as clear as possible from which dates the conventions should be considered as applying in the United Kingdom.
Government Amendments 7 and 8 concern the savings provisions of the two 2018 EU exit SIs and make more extensive changes to them than originally set out in Paragraphs 3 and 4 of Schedule 5 to the Bill. The amendments revoke the savings provisions in the EU exit SIs in their entirety rather than retaining them in an amended form. Instead, reliance is placed on the transitional provisions in Article 16 of the 2005 Hague convention and Article 56 of the 2007 Hague convention which are given legal force by Clause 1. Amendments 4 and 6 are consequential on these changes to the EU exit SIs.
Amendment 9 makes it clear that the conventions should be interpreted as coming into force for the United Kingdom on the dates when the UK originally became bound by them—that is, upon the EU accession to the conventions—and that when the UK joins the conventions in its own right after the end of the transition period, it should be treated as having been bound by the conventions without interruption. This means in particular that in proceedings that take place after the UK rejoins the 2005 Hague convention in its own right, UK courts will apply the 2005 Hague convention rules to all relevant exclusive choice of court agreements made from 1 October 2015 in favour of the courts of an EU member state or the UK courts.
The content of these amendments was discussed at length at the main meeting of the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Private International Law and the drafting has also been considered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, and other members of the committee. They have asked us to make sure that we provide a full explanation of the way in which the amendments are intended to work when we update the Explanatory Notes for the Bill before it passes to the other place, and I am happy to confirm that we will do so. Besides this, they were satisfied that the drafting properly gives effect to the policy intent, and I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, and to the other members of the committee for their expertise in relation to this matter and for the time that they have spent considering these amendments.
I hope that this serves to reassure the House that these are sensible, proportionate and necessary amendments. I consider that they provide a clearer approach to the implementation of the transitional provisions for both Hague 2005 and Hague 2007 at the end of the transition period, and I hope that they will find support across the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, as my noble and learned friend Lord Keen has just said, these amendments were considered by the advisory committee that I chair. We welcome them. They are a wonderful simplification compared with the huge complexity of the previous Schedule 5, which introduced savings on savings on what was already, in Section 4 of the withdrawal Act, a saving. They also correct one important misconception or potential error that had crept into the drafting of some of the previous instruments by making it absolutely clear that, insofar as the Hague 2005 choice of court convention will be relevant—and it will not be very relevant if we join Lugano—it will be relevant in respect of all agreements since October 2015, when the UK was originally signed up to the convention as a member of the EU. That is a point on which the noble and learned Lord and I had personal communication after Second Reading.
I will mention just one further point. That protects, or would protect insofar as it applies, choice of court clauses made after October 2015 that fall within Hague 2005. That means probably only exclusive choice of court clauses. There are two categories that are therefore not potentially covered: first, non-exclusive, asymmetric choice of court clauses, which are very important on the London market and are frequently used in banking documentation; and, secondly, pre-2015 choice of court clauses. At the moment, they are protected under the Brussels regime—the Brussels regulation recast in 2012, of which we are going to lose the benefit.
I know that the Minister has this in mind, but I mention it openly: we should surely, domestically, introduce as much protection for those clauses as we now can. It may not be reciprocal, because we can legislate in this area only domestically unless we can persuade other states to agree with us. But domestically, we should protect clauses, particularly those favouring London, and we should avoid people who rely on such clauses having to go through the formality of seeking leave to serve out of the jurisdiction of the court. At the moment, under the Brussels regime, these clauses are protected, whether they are exclusive or non-exclusive, whenever they were made and we do not have to seek leave to serve out—so I urge the noble and learned Lord to pursue that message, as I know he has it in mind already.
My Lords, I will add only this: I urge the Minister to heed what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, has just said in looking at ways in which we can give further protection to choice of court clauses—those that favour London are to our greatest advantage—and that he does so as far as possible after the implementation period ends.
My Lords, I support the amendments. I will make two points. First, had the noble and learned Lord had his way in Clause 2, he could not have made these amendments, which indicates the importance of primary legislation. Secondly, I hope that he heeds what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, said in his closing remarks. They were important. In the future, it would be more sensible to consult the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Private International Law before producing primary legislation, rather than after.
My Lords, I am most obliged, particularly for the contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance. As he noted, as co-chair of the Lord Chancellor’s Private International Law Advisory Committee, he and I discussed this very point in detail at the May committee. I greatly appreciate not only his contribution but those of the other members of the committee, who have an in-depth understanding and knowledge of how these international agreements work and how the choice of court clauses work.
I am conscious of the issue of choice of jurisdiction and choice of law clauses arising in contracts made before 1 October 2015. I am also conscious of our need to do what we can to simplify the process in regard to that matter and, indeed, the matter of serving out of a jurisdiction, which we would have to look at in the context of the rules. These matters have been raised and I have them in mind at present, so I am most obliged to noble Lords for their contributions.
Amendment 4 agreed.
5: Clause 4, page 4, line 20, leave out subsection (3)
Member’s explanatory statement
Subsection (3) provides for certain consequential amendments in Schedule 5 to come into force by regulations. Those consequential amendments are omitted by other amendments. Therefore subsection (3) is no longer needed.
Amendment 5 agreed.
Schedule 5: Consequential provision
Amendments 6 to 9
6: Schedule 5, page 66, line 1, leave out sub-paragraph (2)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes the saving provision for rights etc under section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 deriving from the 2005 or 2007 Hague Convention. The saving is no longer needed because another amendment ensures that the relevant Convention continues to apply after IP completion day to those cases to which it applies before IP completion day.
7: Schedule 5, page 66, line 14, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) to (6) and insert—
“(2) In Part 1 (introduction), omit regulation 2.(3) Omit Part 2 (the rights etc deriving from the 2005 Hague Convention).(4) In Part 3 (modification and amendment of primary and secondary legislation)—(a) in the heading—(i) omit “Modification and”;(ii) omit “and Secondary”;(b) omit regulation 7.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment revokes regulations relating to rights etc under section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 deriving from the 2005 Hague Convention. The regulations are no longer needed because paragraph 2 of Schedule 5 to the Bill disapplies section 4 in relation to those rights, and another amendment omits the saving provision for them.
8: Schedule 5, page 66, line 39, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) to (7) and insert—
“(2) In Part 1 (introduction), omit regulation 2.(3) Omit Part 2 (the rights etc deriving from the 2007 Hague Convention).(4) Omit Part 3 (modification and amendment of primary and secondary legislation).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment revokes regulations relating to rights etc under section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The regulations are no longer needed because paragraph 2 of Schedule 5 to the Bill disapplies section 4 in relation to those rights, and another amendment omits the saving provision for them. Inserted sub-paragraph (4) also revokes a regulation duplicated in other secondary legislation.
9: Schedule 5, page 67, line 43, at end insert—
“PART 2TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONInterpretation of the 2005 Hague Convention as it has the force of law in the UK
7 For the purposes of Article 16 of the 2005 Hague Convention, as it has the force of law in the United Kingdom by virtue of section 3D(1) of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (as inserted by section 1(2) of this Act), the date on which the 2005 Hague Convention entered into force for the United Kingdom is 1 October 2015, and accordingly references in the Convention to a Contracting State are to be read as including, without interruption from that date, the United Kingdom.Interpretation of the 2007 Hague Convention as it has the force of law in the UK
8 For the purposes of Article 56 of the 2007 Hague Convention, as it has the force of law in the United Kingdom by virtue of section 3E(1) of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982 (as inserted by section 1(2) of this Act), the date on which the 2007 Hague Convention entered into force for the United Kingdom is 1 August 2014, and accordingly references in the Convention to a Contracting State are to be read as including, without interruption from that date, the United Kingdom.Interpretation of Part 2
9 In this Part of this Schedule—“the 2005 Hague Convention” means the Convention on Choice of Court Agreements concluded on 30 June 2005 at The Hague;“the 2007 Hague Convention” means the Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance concluded on 23 November 2007 at The Hague.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that there is no interruption at the end of the transition period to the implementation of the Conventions in the UK.
Amendments 6 to 9 agreed.
Schedule 6: Regulations under section 2
10: Schedule 6, page 68, line 8, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
“(b) provision that creates, amends or extends a criminal offence, or increases the penalty for a criminal offence.”
I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of an amendment and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press an amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly because this amendment has little significance now that the House has decided to remove Clause 2.
Schedule 6 deals with detailed regulation-making power under Clause 2. We will put down an amendment at Third Reading to get rid of Schedule 6, so this does not matter. I tabled Amendment 10 simply to illustrate the width of the power that was being given under Clause 2 and, had we lost the argument on Clause 2, to indicate that we would seek to remove this power. The power in Clause 2(1)(b) allows the Executive by statutory instrument to create offences in connection with the introduction of a private international law treaty with a punishment of up to two years. That is wholly inappropriate, and it illustrates the danger of what was being proposed. But I will not press this amendment to a Division because Schedule 6 will go in any event.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said, Amendment 10 is now academic, but it provides an opportunity to mention that one of the concerns of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee is that Bills regularly seek to confer on Ministers the power to create criminal offences.
Paragraph 21 of the committee’s report on this Bill— HL Paper 55—said that the conferral of delegated powers to create criminal offences, particularly those that are subject to imprisonment, is “constitutionally unacceptable”. We made the same point in paragraph 30 of our report of 9 June—HL Paper 71—on the constitutional issues raised by Brexit legislation. There needs to be a strong justification for departing from that general principle. I hope, as I know do the other members of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, that Ministers will take account of these important principles. If they do not and they bring forward similar clauses in other Bills, we will report on them accordingly to the House.
My Lords, as I said in Committee, it is a matter of important principle that criminal offences must be clearly defined. I pointed to the criminal offences created, without consultation or debate, by way of regulations, in connection with the current lockdown. I pointed to the fact that they had caused confusion between the Prime Minister and his cohorts and virtually the rest of the country. Since I spoke on that matter, these offences are being amended, or new offences are being created, on, it seems, almost a weekly basis.
As my noble friend Lord Marks pointed out in the previous debate, there can be no clarity as to even the topic of a future international agreement, so there is no clear context within which this House can consider the power to create criminal offences in the field of private international law.
Last week, when we came to debate the Agriculture Bill, I was interested to note that precisely this point had been made by the Delegated Powers Committee: that it was against principle for sentences of imprisonment to be imposed by way of regulation. That was part of the original agriculture Bill, which fell at the time of the general election. In the new Agriculture Bill, Defra has withdrawn its position and is no longer asking for the provision of power, by regulation, to create criminal offences punishable by imprisonment. To my mind, this is a very good way of proceeding, and I hope that it spreads to other government departments.
My Lords, it is all too easy to think that a sentence of imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, which is what paragraph 1(1)(b) of Schedule 6 by implication permits, is a relatively light matter. It certainly is not. Any conviction for a criminal offence, whatever the sentence that results from it, can have the most serious consequences for the individual; for example, opportunities for travel, employment and obtaining insurance can all be affected. The issue, therefore, is one of principle. It should not be for Ministers to create criminal offences by statutory instrument.
I will be very brief, as this amendment really has no purpose in the light of the result of the Division.
I too agree that, as a matter of principle, it was wrong to seek to include this power in the Bill. Furthermore, it must be recalled that, in relation to most aspects of private international law and the reciprocal enforcement of orders of other courts, the courts have significant powers by way of committal for contempt or injunctions. It cannot be justified to create and impose criminal offences with sentences of imprisonment in the circumstances of this particular Bill.
I share the view of other noble Lords and noble and learned Lords. This is pre-eminently a matter for Parliament. It has been slipped into Schedule 6 as a qualification to Section 2 powers regarding private international law. I suggest that, if one had read Section 2 by itself, one would not normally have expected it to cover crime at all, and yet this comes in as if it is automatic that it would cover it. It clearly should not.
What is being done is quite interesting to analyse. The Explanatory Notes suggest that what is in mind is enforcing on a reciprocal basis offences that are offences under English law—non-molestation or breach of injunction in respect of harassment, that sort of thing. Those will already be offences domestically, so what is contemplated is recognising similar foreign offences automatically as part of domestic law, as I understand it. That strikes me as a very novel suggestion. Can the Minister give us any relevant examples in private international law of agreements by international treaty to create a domestic offence out of a foreign conviction? It might be in respect of something that is already an offence under domestic law, but as I understand it the idea here is to convert a foreign conviction into a domestic one. Are there any examples? One notes that the 1920 and 1933 Acts on which he relied are carefully limited to civil proceedings; likewise the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, as its name says.
I will end with an inquiry. The amendment has been described as academic and so it might seem at the moment, Clause 2 having been removed. May I inquire, more out of ignorance—I am sure others know the answer—if we do not press it to a Division today, what happens if Clause 2 is restored in the other place? Surely, we ought to consider at least ensuring that the amendment succeeds in eliminating the reference to penal offences.
My Lords, I addressed this issue in the group on the removal of Clause 2. I agree with everything that has been said so far in the debate on this amendment, which I support. Once again, we have unanimity. Although it might not be directly relevant in the light of the removal of Clause 2, I note the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, as to what will happen should Clause 2 be restored in the other place. I suspect that that would be curable here by passing a similar amendment, but I invite the Minister to consider that position as well.
My Lords, clearly, given that Clause 2 is no longer part of the Bill, this amendment would have no effect. However, I understand why the noble and learned Lord moved it—to allow further discussion of the issue. We believe that the inclusion of the provision to which the amendment relates would have been important in allowing the implementation of private international law agreements that necessitate the creation of a criminal offence, particularly in the family law area. I mentioned that in Committee.
In response to the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, I am not aware of any current examples where we have provided for criminal penalties when implementing a private international law agreement. However, that does not mean that it would not be the appropriate step to take in future agreements, for example, on mutual recognition and enforcement of protection measures, where the equivalent domestic orders were enforceable by criminal penalties such as orders under the Family Law Act 1996, or, indeed, injunctions under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. One is looking to the equivalents of such orders made by a foreign court when it comes to enforcement in the United Kingdom.
I continue to suggest that the safeguards on the power that I outlined in Committee, including use of the affirmative procedure as a matter of course, would be effective and appropriate in this regard. However, since the Clause 2 delegated power is no longer part of the Bill, I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment. In the event that Clause 2 comes back to this House, it appears that there might be scope for him to revisit this issue.
The only example that the noble and learned Lord has given of the need for a criminal offence is in relation to family law—for example, making it a criminal offence not to comply with an order made by a foreign court. I think that is a very sensible power to have. What the level of criminality should be, and whether we should recognise those sorts of offences, is plainly a matter on which Parliament should properly take a view in primary legislation. I was extremely struck by the fact that he gave no examples in answer to the question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance.
I am absolutely bewildered as to why the Government are doing this. The amendment does not stop them doing what they want to do in relation to private international law; all it requires is that Parliament gets a say and can amend things, as we have just done in relation to the implementation of the three treaties that we are dealing with today. What is wrong with that? It does not cause problems. It means that you get much higher-quality implementation, as we discovered this afternoon through the amendments being debated.
Is it a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the Government that they want to keep Parliament out of things as much as possible? The Minister gives fatuous justification for this by saying that it is “necessary” and “essential” for the UK to remain in its pre-eminent position. This is obvious tosh, as we have been in a pre-eminent position without this existing power before.
I am not going to press this amendment because, as the noble and learned Lord impliedly accepts, Schedule 6 will drop out at Third Reading, which means that there will be nothing to amend. I am very surprised that he is being a dog in the manger about that—of course that schedule has to come out once Clause 2 has come out. I would be interested to hear whether he accepts that; if he does not accept it, I will think that he is behaving slightly childishly.
I am not sure whether our rules allow the noble and learned Lord to come back at this stage. I see noble Lords indicating that they do, so could he confirm that he will agree that Schedule 6 will come out before the Bill goes to the other place?
My Lords, it appears to me that Schedule 6 is quite distinct to Clause 2 as a part of the Bill, but, clearly, it is entirely dependent upon the existence of Clause 2. Beyond that, I do not really comprehend what the noble and learned Lord is talking about.
I will explain the question. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that, now that Clause 2 has been deleted, Schedule 6 should also be deleted?
Does the Minister wish to respond?
It may well be that it should be deleted, but it is for the noble and learned Lord to move his amendment if he wishes it to be deleted.
As the noble and learned Lord knows, I do not have such an amendment down. Obviously, what I was saying was that I would put down an amendment at Third Reading. Does he agree that that would be agreed to by the Government?
It helps if I can make the announcement so that people can capture this on camera. Does the Minister wish to respond?
That is disappointing.
In any event, I think the view of the House is unanimous. This is an inappropriate provision. I will not press my amendment. I take it that the Minister accepts that Schedule 6 is totally dependent on Clause 2. In those circumstances, I will put down an amendment at Third Reading to get rid of Schedule 6. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
11: Schedule 6, page 68, line 44, at end insert—
“( ) Before laying a draft of an instrument before each House of Parliament under sub-paragraph (2), the Secretary of State must consult—(a) Scottish Ministers,(b) Welsh Ministers, and(c) the Northern Ireland department.”
I remind noble Lords that Members, other than the mover and the Minister, may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 11, I shall also speak to Amendment 12. I am, of course, aware that the position on consultation is different for Northern Ireland and Scotland, which have separate and therefore fully developed legal systems, where Wales does not; therefore, private international law and the implementation of these agreements is devolved in their cases.
At Second Reading, I asked for copper-bottomed assurances from the Minister with regard to devolution—namely that, should the Government identify issues within devolved competence, which would be impacted by existing or future private international law agreements, they would consult the Welsh Government—I emphasise the word “consult”. I was arguing not that the Welsh Government or Senedd should be able to veto or prevent the UK Government concluding such international agreements but simply that, in doing so, they should first make sure they understood the perspective of the devolved institutions, which, in many cases, are obliged to implement such agreements, and preferably secure their consent.
Frankly, I was astonished by the cavalier—some might say high-handed or arrogant—dismissal by the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, of my request. We may be getting used to the way that this Government are determined to sideline and ignore Parliament, but I had not expected this response, because I was advised that the Welsh Government had been given specific verbal assurances on this point. Welsh Ministers were so concerned at his dismissive reply that their Counsel General, a Minister, wrote to the Lord Chancellor protesting about it.
This is not just a debating point. As I made clear at Second Reading, the UK Government have already signed international agreements which directly impact on the rights of the Senedd to determine the franchise—a pretty fundamental point, you may well agree—and a competence that was devolved only in 2017. The truth is that the Government did not consult any of the devolved Governments properly over a series of European Union withdrawal and Brexit-related Bills. Instead, UK Ministers tried to indulge in a series of power grabs, as previously devolved functions were returned from Brussels back to the UK. There were a series of stand-offs with the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland. There were also refusals to grant legislative consent Motions in Wales and Scotland until satisfactory outcomes were belatedly conceded by Her Majesty’s Government. I am sure that something similar would have arisen in Northern Ireland had Stormont not been so damagingly self-suspended for three years during this Brexit-dominated period.
I therefore repeat my request for the Minister to give an assurance at the Dispatch Box now on the necessity for full and early consultation, for my amendments are designed to ensure that the devolved institutions are not blindsided by finding out after the event that the UK Government have signed up to obligations on their behalf, without any forewarning.
My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain. I am a signatory to Amendment 11, which quite clearly emphasises—as does Amendment 12—the need for direct consultation with the devolved institutions. I am a former Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly; I was also a Minister in the Executive and had direct responsibility for benefits and for the protection of children through child support. One facet of this Bill deals with those issues to do with absent parents and the protection of children when the absent parent has gone to live in another jurisdiction. I fully understand and appreciate the matter.
My point, in supporting the amendment, is to ensure that the devolved institutions are not blindsided. I carried out some, shall we say, investigation and research on this: we know that the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Justice was contacted by the Minister for Justice on 28 April and that the committee gave approval on 30 April. Then the legislative consent Motion, which gives effect to the UK Government legislation, was approved on 19 May.
However, on further examining that debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 19 May, I noticed that some Members, albeit accepting the premise and purposes of the Bill, were concerned that after its approval they would not be consulted as an Assembly. The Minister would simply be advised that certain instruments were to be laid and that this particular legislation would apply, but they as Members of the Assembly would not be able to debate it, change it or give an opinion. In my view, that is undemocratic, hence my support for both amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain.
My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hain for the opportunity to raise some issues on Report, not least because it gives an opportunity to emphasise the different situations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and, very specifically, the different situation between Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales, given the legislative competencies that exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland. That was perhaps highlighted earlier today in the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, on the Hague convention. He reminded us that the Hague convention was carried into Scots law in 2003, when he was Deputy First Minister and I was First Minister, and it is still outstanding in UK law for England and the rest of the country.
I want to ask where we have reached with the legislative consent Motion for the Bill in the Scottish Parliament. I would be grateful if the Advocate-General would update us on that. I would also be grateful for his consideration of this issue of consultation and engagement with the devolved Governments and Parliaments on international treaties. It is accepted in the Scotland Act and the other Acts of 1998 that there is a reserved responsibility on international treaties, but it has been accepted ever since, most recently perhaps in the concordat on international relations between the UK Government and the devolved Governments, that there are joint interests here in relation to devolved legislative competencies and reserved legislative competencies. We can surely do better, as the Law Society of Scotland and others have argued now for many years, in finding systems for the engagement of devolved Governments and Parliaments in advance of treaties being negotiated and signed, rather than afterwards. It seems to me that we are long overdue a formal structure for the engagement of devolved Ministers and Governments in the agreement of negotiating mandates for treaties, rather than simply information, consultation and then approval afterwards. I would be interested to hear the views of the Advocate-General on that as a way forward.
My Lords, I support this amendment and I, too, was shocked by the lack of response to the very detailed speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in Committee. It seemed to me that the Minister did not give a proper response to what had been said. I think it underlines the Conservative Party’s problem with devolution: either it does not understand it or, if it does, it does not accept it. To give one example, a Conservative Member of Parliament called for the end of devolution to Wales altogether and the scrapping of the Senedd, because his constituents could not, as they normally do at this time of year, go to the Welsh beaches to swim in the sea. That was sufficient to call for the end of devolution in Wales. With that sort of attitude, and with the noble and learned Lord’s attitude to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, it really makes the case that the Conservative Party is at odds with devolution and what it means.
Throughout the legislation going through Parliament at the moment, there is a gap in recognising the need for consultation and if possible agreement with the devolved Administrations. This is so on the Agriculture Bill, as I pointed out last week. The Joint Ministerial Committee is a joke; it has never worked properly and is ignored by English Ministers. These are great gaps that have to be filled if the devolution settlements are to be properly appreciated.
My Lords, under Amendment 11
“the Secretary of State must consult … Scottish Ministers … Welsh Ministers, and … the Northern Ireland department.”
Can the Minister confirm that this has been done and that the three departments are fully satisfied?
My main concern is about family law. There are family litigations in progress in the courts. A light has been shone on what happens if one of the spouses is resident in the UK and the other is in another EU country and has a different nationality. The question of the children’s custody will have to be resolved. As the UK will be out of the EU by the end of 2020, there are bound to be pending cases that will have to be resolved. Ratifying the Hague conventions will also have to be done.
There are other problems when one spouse is British and the other is in the subcontinent with the children. In such cases the children suffer the most, as the questions of their upkeep and final custody remain unresolved. This will be a very complex issue, and solutions will have to be found with diplomacy and patience. It would be useful if the Minister could explain how the above issues of children’s maintenance, cost and custody will be dealt with.
My Lords, I have nothing to add to what was said by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford on this amendment, which we support.
I support the principle of this amendment. It is all of a piece with the way this legislation has been conducted. My noble friend Lord Hain described the attitude of the Minister when this was raised with him in Committee as “high-handed” and “cavalier”. Prior to that, as my noble friend said, there had not been proper consultation with the devolved Welsh Administration. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, indicated that the Northern Ireland Assembly did not feel it had been consulted. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said earlier that the devolution aspect of this had not been thought through. As became apparent during the earlier stages of this Bill, the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Private International Law was not consulted at all before the Bill was laid before Parliament.
This is not the right way to legislate. I very much hope that the Minister will reflect on the failures properly to deal with this Bill and the inadequacies in it as a result, in particular Clause 2 and the need significantly to amend Clause 1. Both Clause 1, which has broad support throughout the House, and the need for its amendment indicated how misjudged Clause 2 is. If the Minister has any respect for this House, he will properly respond to the points raised on this amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for meeting with me after Second Reading, when we discussed what he termed the copper-bottomed guarantee that he had sought in that debate. I explained to him the difficulty I had with that demand, given that it conflated the position of the Welsh Government with that of the Northern Ireland and Scottish Governments in circumstances where there was a quite separate and distinct divorce settlement with regard to the latter two, in contrast with the position in Wales. I understood him to appreciate that—indeed he even mentioned amending his amendment. I indicated that I did not think that necessary, because of course we are dealing here with a point of principle, and an important one.
Before I turn to the detail of the amendments, I stress to noble Lords that Ministry of Justice officials are in regular conversation with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations, not only about the matters contained within the Bill but whenever private international law issues arise that touch on areas of their devolved competence more generally. We are very conscious of our responsibilities under the devolution settlements, and our approach in this area is always to seek to engage early and often when any questions arise. It is my view that such an approach of early engagement is the best way to make consultation genuinely meaningful.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, referred to an earlier observation by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, with regard to his concern over the devolved aspects of the Bill. I have to say that I am perplexed by the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and perhaps I should have responded earlier. There are two distinct ways in which these matters can be dealt with in the devolved context of Scotland. One is by the Scottish Ministers and the other is by the Secretary of State with the consent of the Scottish Ministers. The latter avenue is of course there because there are circumstances in which the Scottish Government will say to the UK Government, “We are quite content that you should implement these provisions throughout the United Kingdom without us having to replicate your efforts”. I hope that that assists in clarifying that point.
The Government have fully honoured the devolution settlements in this area as we approached the drafting of the Bill, including, I may add, the Clause 2 power itself and how it can be exercised in particular in relation to Northern Ireland and Scotland. It is important to point out at the outset that the devolution settlement is different in distinct parts of the United Kingdom, as I said before, and that difference is reflected in the Bill.
Amendment 11 affects Scotland and Northern Ireland, where private international law is a devolved matter, differently to Wales, where these matters are almost entirely reserved. For Scotland and Northern Ireland, there are already two designated “appropriate national authorities”, as I just mentioned, which may exercise the Clause 2 power for those jurisdictions: either the Scottish Ministers or a Northern Ireland department, or alternatively, the Secretary of State acting with the consent of those Ministers or the Northern Ireland department. Either way, the ultimate decision on use of the Clause 2 power in Scotland and Northern Ireland rests with the devolved Administrations, and that is reflected in the Bill.
In principle, I have no objection to consulting before the Secretary of State can make regulations which apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Indeed, it is something that would happen, because he can make those regulations only with the consent of the Scottish Government or of the Northern Ireland department. I refer also to Clause 2(7)(b)(i) and (c)(i), which provide that the Secretary of State already needs the consent of the Scottish Ministers or a Northern Ireland department to legislate for those parts of the United Kingdom. I do not see how one would gain such consent without consultation. It goes without saying that if you are to secure consent, you must consult and engage.
The Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Administration have been fully engaged in the drafting of the Bill, including the Clause 2 power, and there is strong support from both devolved Administrations on the Clause 2 power as currently drafted. That is reflected in the fact that a legislative consent Motion has already been granted by the Northern Ireland Assembly, and another has been laid before the Scottish Parliament, with both the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee recommending that consent be granted. There we have a clear picture of what is happening in the devolved Administrations with regard to the Bill, and in particular Clause 2, and their welcome of these developments. They are the product of consultation and of consent.
I now turn to Wales, where the private international law situation is different. It is almost entirely reserved, but there is an exception for Cafcass, which provides expert child-focused advice and support and safeguards children. I can confirm that at present there are no agreements we wish to join and implement using the Clause 2 power falling within the area of devolved competence in Wales. However, should an intention to join and implement such an agreement arise, we would of course consult the Welsh Government before implementing the agreement—as we do—at the soonest possible opportunity and with the intention of engaging in meaningful consultation and discussion, with a view to reaching agreement over how best to proceed. I trust your Lordships now appreciate the different position of Wales in this context and why I could not simply give the copper-bottom guarantee that merged the position of Wales with Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Amendment 12, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, covers similar ground to the previous amendment. It inserts a requirement that, prior to laying a draft of a statutory instrument to implement an agreement before each House of Parliament under paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 6, the Secretary of State must request and obtain the consent, by means of a resolution, of the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd and the Northern Ireland Assembly, as appropriate in so far as the private international law agreement affects matters that are devolved to each of those legislatures.
I have already set out the devolution settlement in this area and the proposed use of the Clause 2 power in that context. The Bill as currently drafted fully adheres to the devolution settlement in this area of law. I also recognise that the position of Wales in this area is different to that of Scotland and Northern Ireland and have already given assurances on that matter.
I continue to believe that the approach taken by both amendments of introducing a legislative requirement either to consult the devolved Administrations or to get their formal consent on the exercise of the Clause 2 power is unnecessary and confusing given how the Bill is currently framed. The issue of consent is already catered for in the Clause 2 power. On consultation, I continue to believe that any formal provision is unnecessary because one will never secure consent without consultation.
I hope that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Hain, with regard to our position. We are concerned to consult and have consent in the context of each devolved settlement, remembering that it is for the Scottish Government to implement private international law agreements in Scotland, which is quite distinct from the position in Wales. For these reasons, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Hain.
I thank my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick for the telling point that she made about Northern Ireland and the confused picture of consultation there. I also thank my noble friend Lord McConnell for the interesting points that he made, including on the long-overdue formal structure for mandates for treaties. It was an interesting point that the Government might want to consider. Whether it is over Europe or international treaties, I have always found the process for forming the mandate for the negotiations in respect of the devolved Administrations, as my noble friend Lord McConnell put it—as a former First Minister of Scotland, he is an authority on these matters—to be a sort of retrospective rather than prior consultation. I thank, too, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for his important point about getting agreement, if possible, with the devolved Administrations on all the Bills that are descending on us in a great shower as we move to leave the European Union.
The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, made important points about family law and proper consultation over the complexities of children’s rights. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer made what I thought was the very telling observation that the way that these amendments have been handled and, indeed, the response to my points at Second Reading are all of a piece, to use his phrase, with the way in which the Bill has been conducted.
I thank the Minister for his response. However, I am afraid that I do not accept his interpretation of the way that I approached this matter at Second Reading, and I think that revisiting Hansard will confirm that. My points concerned Wales. I asked for a copper-bottomed guarantee on consultation over Wales. I did not get it then and I have only sort of got it, grudgingly, now. I simply say to him that I always found in my role as a Minister that it was better to own up and admit to mistakes if and when you made them. If I may say so as a former Secretary of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland, I think that it is also better to be open and embracing about devolution and the statutory requirements for consultation and agreement on these matters, rather than to be a bit grudging and chippy about them.
I have no idea what the Welsh Government will make of the Minister’s reply. He seems to have given a commitment to consult and reach agreement, but we will need to see. Maybe this matter will have to be revisited on Report, especially if the Welsh Government react with a letter to the Lord Chancellor in the way that they did after his response to me last week. Perhaps that will not be necessary—I certainly hope not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Amendment 12 not moved.
House adjourned at 5.51 pm.