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Public Bill Committees

Debated on Tuesday 23 November 2021

Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill (Fifth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Yvonne Fovargue, James Gray

Baker, Duncan (North Norfolk) (Con)

† Blackman, Kirsty (Aberdeen North) (SNP)

† Brown, Alan (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

Browne, Anthony (South Cambridgeshire) (Con)

† Cairns, Alun (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)

† Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)

† Doyle-Price, Jackie (Thurrock) (Con)

† Duffield, Rosie (Canterbury) (Lab)

Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)

† Hands, Greg (Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

† Jenkinson, Mark (Workington) (Con)

† Owen, Sarah (Luton North) (Lab)

† Pennycook, Matthew (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)

† Wallis, Dr Jamie (Bridgend) (Con)

† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)

Whitley, Mick (Birkenhead) (Lab)

† Whittaker, Craig (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Sarah Ioannou, Rob Page, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 23 November 2021

[Yvonne Fovargue in the Chair]

Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill

Before we begin, I have a few preliminary reminders for the Committee. Please switch electronic devices to silent. No food and drink is permitted during sittings of the Committee except for the water that is provided. I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give one another and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members emailed their speaking notes to hansardnotes@parliament.uk.

May I have declarations of interest first, please?

I draw the Committee’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is a matter of public record that I was employed in the nuclear sector prior to my election to this place.

Thank you.

Clause 15

Regulations about revenue collection contracts

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Welcome back to the Chair, Ms Fovargue. For the benefit of colleagues, I will speak briefly on the clause, which introduces part 2 of the Bill, and what that is all about. The clause gives a power to the Secretary of State to make regulations about revenue collection contracts, which operate between a revenue collection counterparty and a designated nuclear company, referring back to part 1. Contracts will require the revenue collection counterparty to collect payments from Great Britain electricity suppliers and pass them to the licensee nuclear company so that it can receive its allowed revenue. Subject to consent being given, we expect the Low Carbon Contracts Company to take on the role of the counterparty.

Clauses 16 to 24 set out in further detail what the regulations may cover in relation to the contracts. They could include, for example, the duties of the counterparty, the amounts that electricity suppliers must pay and how the authority will enforce the contract. The legislation will enable payments to flow in the opposite direction if necessary, such as in circumstances where the nuclear company receives more than its allowed revenue. The regulations will ensure that the nuclear company can receive its allowed revenue in a consistent and stable flow. Importantly, the regulations throughout this part are based on existing regulations governing the revenue model under the contracts for difference regime, taking precedent from the Energy Act 2013. Regulations relating to clauses to 16 to 22 and the first regulations made under clauses 23 or 24 will be made using the affirmative procedure. They will therefore be subject to a greater level of scrutiny, as we know, as such statutory instruments must be approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. Like the Minister, I would like to spend a moment announcing, as it were, this part of the Bill, which I hope we can get through in an orderly and suitably speedy fashion. It is however important to share an understanding of what we think this part is about. As the Minister said, it concerns the setting-up of revenue collection contracts; the setting-up of a counterparty to hold the revenue collected from suppliers to underpin action by the nuclear company in terms of construction; and, importantly, as he said—he seemed a little concerned when I mentioned this in our previous sitting—revenue collection and distribution during both the construction and production phases of a nuclear project.

My understanding is that during the production phase, the nature of the revenue collection changes. During the construction phase, within the overall allowable costs architecture, the nuclear company is likely to absorb whatever comes its way from the counterparty for the purposes of underpinning the construction costs of the nuclear plant. Obviously, there are debates to be held on that and further regulations to be put in place concerning how the revenue stream for a nuclear company is carried out and the requirements of the construction at various phases.

We have debated to some extent the instance whereby the allowable costs ceiling is breached because of rising costs, particularly during production; whether the regulator would have the opportunity to revisit the allowable costs ceiling; and what effect that would have on the run through the regulated asset base process to customer bills as a result of those recalculations. However, there are issues with what revenue stream goes into the nuclear company, and at what stage during construction, but that is within the overall costs ceiling, or should be, in the first instance.

During the production phase of a nuclear plant, the relationship between collection, distribution and re-disbursement becomes a little more complicated. I would be obliged if the Minister could shed a little light on some of the things that happen during the production process, which are still slightly unclear. That is important because, in the production process, the receipt of funding under the RAB process becomes a comparative issue. The company is making money and producing electricity, and one would expect that, as a result of the RAB model, the money that is being made by the company would sit within the parameters of what has been agreed for the regulated rate of return under the RAB model. If the company is making more money from its production of electricity than is allowed within the overall model’s parameters, that money starts coming back to the counterparty or, at least indirectly, through to customers.

Conversely, if the company is making less money from its production than is allowed within the RAB model for production purposes, money continues to come in under the allowable costs ceiling. The best explanation is given on page 21 of the consultation document on a RAB model for nuclear, which suggests:

“Suppliers could pass the cost of the payment obligation onto their consumers, as they do with other regulated costs and could likewise reimburse their consumers (as happens under a CfD) in periods where suppliers receive payments from the project company (e.g. when the Allowed Revenue is lower than the project company’s revenue from power sales). The design process would need to consider how these charges could be made in more detail, in consultation with suppliers and consumer representatives.”

That is essentially the model during the production phase: it is potentially a two-way process.

That issue reflects, at least to some extent, the amendments that we wish to discuss this afternoon —an understanding of how the money goes into the counterparty, what the counterparty does with the money, what the counterparty does when the money is held, and what the counterparty does if that money may not be needed, or money has been paid back into it by the nuclear company during the production phase. Consideration of how that happens, where that money goes and what sort of requirements one should place on that process are at the heart of some of our amendments.

I thought it important to check whether we have a shared understanding with the Minister of how the process works. Assuming that we do, we can discuss the amendments on the basis of that shared understanding of what this part of the Bill sets out to do. That is essentially a contribution to the clause stand part debate, but I hope that it clarifies how we will proceed with part 2 as a whole, and that it will be helpful to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Ms Fovargue. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test spoke about a shared understanding. I wish I had one; I do not think that the Bill is good enough to have any shared understanding of what it is about. Part 1 is clearly all about the definition of designating a nuclear company, and then a blank cheque in terms of defining costs. It seems to me that part 2 is all about how the blank cheque moneys are recouped in revenue collection.

I have one point to put to the Minister. Explanatory note 119 states:

“The terms of a revenue collection contract will be bilaterally negotiated between the Secretary of State and an eligible nuclear company to be designated under Part 1.”

Would he enlighten me on what expertise the Secretary of State has in negotiating a revenue collection contract for a new nuclear power station, how that will be undertaken in a transparent manner, and what options are available for scrutiny of that?

I thank both hon. Gentlemen for their contributions. I will try to be as helpful as I can. Rather than setting any hares running, it is essentially a very similar process to how contracts for difference work under the Energy Act 2013. There is nothing essentially different here, other than the fact that it is about nuclear power generation and has the RAB model. What we are talking about in this part of the Bill is essentially the same process that is being used for contracts for difference under the 2013 Act. I am always slightly reluctant when an Opposition Member asks whether we have a shared understanding. It strikes me as often being slightly dangerous to give a blank cheque on that. My understanding of the process, and I think the Opposition would agree, is that it is essentially the same process that we have been using for contracts for difference through the collection company.

I substantially agree that that is essentially how the process works, except that of course with CfDs the customer contribution does not change at all once the CfD has been implemented because there is a constant price. The difference is in the company getting the difference between the reference and the strike price, not what the customer pays for electricity bills or pays into the process itself.

Here there will be a frequent resetting, which is likely to be twice yearly, in terms of the amount of money that has been collected, followed by a reconciliation at the end of the period, but a lot of the detail will be set out in the draft regulations. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun asked what expertise the Secretary of State has to negotiate such a deal. As I said, this has been a tried-and-tested methodology over the past eight years. When we say “the Secretary of State”, we mean that the individual who is the Secretary of State is the decision maker, but acts with the advice of a group of excellent officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. That is the normal way in which any reference to a Secretary of State is made in primary legislation. As I say, the legislation is very much based on the Energy Act 2013 and how it looks at the contracts for difference regime.

The other point that I was making was about transparency. What options are available for the likes of me, an opposition MP, to scrutinise and challenge what is being signed off as a good deal?

The regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, will mean a debate in a Committee Room like this, and the potential to take the legislation to the Floor of the House and have a Division of the House of Commons. In that sense, the scrutiny available to Members of Parliament—if that is what he is referring to—is considerable. That is why the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure. I think it is reasonable for Parliament to see the regulations when they are made, although we do not envisage that further technical changes to those regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure. As laid out in later clauses, those changes will be subject to negative procedure. I hope that the Committee will agree to clause stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Designation of a revenue collection counterparty

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The power in clause 16 will enable the Secretary of State to designate an eligible and consenting company or public authority to be the revenue collection counterparty for revenue collection contracts. As stated earlier, the Government intend that the Low Carbon Contracts Company should fill that role. The counterparty will be responsible for collecting payments from electricity suppliers and making payments to the relevant licensee nuclear company, as well as collecting any payments from the licensee and making payments back to electricity suppliers.

Unlike contracts for difference, the authority will be solely responsible for determining amounts to be paid to or by the revenue collection counterparty, and would be responsible for communicating that to the counterparty. That responsibility is facilitated by regulations making provision to require information to be shared by the authority, a revenue collection counterparty, and the national system operator under clause 23, on information and advice. The power to designate a counterparty will commence at the point of Royal Assent to support the Government’s aim of bringing at least one large-scale nuclear project to the point of final investment decision within this Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17

Duties of a revenue collection counterparty

I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 17, page 14, line 31, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

Although I have set out some of the shared under- standings that I think necessary for the three amendments that we will move this afternoon, this is not one of them. Amendment 14 addresses the text of the Bill, and puts in place small question marks about what that text means for the Secretary of State’s responsibilities, particularly in relation to the duties of a revenue collection counterparty.

At the moment, clause 17(1) states:

“A revenue collection counterparty must act in accordance with…any direction given by the Secretary of State”

and

“any provision included in revenue regulations.”

That theme of “must” continues in subsection (4), which states:

“A revenue counterparty must exercise the functions conferred by or by virtue of this Part so as to ensure that it can meet its liabilities under any revenue collection contract”.

It is an imperative. And subsection (5) states:

“Revenue regulations must include such provision as the Secretary of State considers necessary so as to ensure that a revenue collection counterparty can meet its liabilities under any revenue collection contract to which it is a party.”

Clearly, those “musts” are imperatives for the revenue collection counterparty to undertake. It “must” act in accordance with directions given by the Secretary of State; it “must” ensure that it can meet its liabilities; and it “must” meet its liabilities under any revenue collection contract.

Then we go to subsection (2) and look at the provision for the regulations themselves, which logically should follow on from the imperatives that I have set out, but we see this statement:

“Revenue regulations may make provision”.

The regulations that carry out the imperatives of the other provisions of the clause do not appear to have the same imperative applied to them.

I appreciate that the word “may” in legislation is a perfectly reasonable and acceptable term where something can be done as part of a series of powers that perhaps a Secretary of State has. A Secretary of State may decide to do various things under those powers. Indeed, we get some enlightenment on that in subsection (3), which refers to the

“provision that may be made by virtue of subsection (2)”.

That is a proper use of the word “may”.

However, in this case, what the word “may” appears to suggest is that the regulations that follow from the imperatives do not have to make provision for these particular things; they “may” make provision. There is no direction from the senior Bill to secondary legislation to actually follow the imperatives in the Bill. If the regulations do not happen to make provision, they simply do not, because they “may” make provision; they do not have to do so. That appears to me to be not a very good way of ensuring that the things that should happen under this clause actually do happen.

I know that we are all good Members of the House—I am sure that if legislation suggested that we should do particular things, we would do them—but that is not quite the point. Legislation from this place is supposed to stand the test of time, cope with the vicissitudes of Administrations as they come and go, and ensure that what the legislation intended will actually be done, so either this legislation intends that these regulations do not have to be made or the word “may” is a little less than robust, hence the very modest and small amendment that we have suggested. It would replace the word “may” in subsection (2) with the word “must”, so that there was consistency throughout the clause. It would not be a major change to the Bill, but might strengthen it a little and give a little more certainty about its operation.

As the hon. Gentleman outlined, the amendment addresses what the regulations relating to revenue collection contracts may or must contain. The amendment relates to the duties of the revenue collection counterparty in clause 17. The counterparty will be the body responsible for channelling funds between the designated nuclear company and suppliers. Currently, the Bill gives a discretionary power to make regulations that can ensure that the revenue collection counterparty, first, enters arrangements or offers to contract for the purpose of a revenue collection contract; secondly, must, may or may not do certain actions; and thirdly, undertakes or does not undertake actions specified in the regulations or the direction by the Secretary of State. The legislation further clarifies, for example, that the directions may cover, among other things, the enforcement, variation or exercise of right under a revenue collection contract. Amendment 14, moved by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, seeks to make it obligatory that the revenue collection contracts will cover these areas whenever they are made. I welcome the hon. Member’s engagement with the detail of the revenue collection regulations, which will play a key role in the functioning of the RAB. However, I do not believe that the approach suggested by the amendment improves our arrangements for the regulations.

First, it is the Government’s intention that the regulation made to establish the RAB revenue stream would likely contain all of the topics set out. Obliging them to be included would be unnecessarily restrictive at a point where we are still developing the structure of the regulations, which will be brought forward by the affirmative procedure in due course. It is therefore important that the power remains discretionary, to allow for sufficient flexibility as we progress the policy. Secondly, the amendment seeks to override the original intention of the clause, which was to provide an indicative, non-exhaustive list of what the regulations may cover. That approach is precedented by the Energy Act 2013, particularly in section 21, as well as in other clauses in this Bill. It is entirely regular to use the word “may” for things that we think will be likely to be included.

Finally, as currently drafted, the amendment appears to be in conflict with subsection (3), because the change from “may” to “must” is not reflected there—subsection (3) builds on the subsection that amendment 15 addresses. That leads to an inconsistency in drafting, where subsection (2) would state that the topics “must” be covered, whereas subsection (3) limits it to “may”. I welcome the hon. Member’s scrutiny of, and engagement with, the detail of the revenue provisions in part 2 of the Bill; I recognise the Opposition’s concerns around ensuring that regulation is sufficiently robust. However, I do not believe that the amendment is the way to achieve that, and I hope that hon. Members will withdraw it.

I appreciate that this is a habitual piece of drafting in legislation, found not just in this Bill but in a number of others. One of my hopes with legislation has always been that a group of Members might be courageous enough on one occasion to say, “This is lax writing of legislation and we should not put up with it. We should have what it means included in the Bill.” I appreciate that the lax writing of the legislation may not be lax at all—it may be deliberately giving the Secretary of State a lot more leeway where things are not entirely sorted out. When we look at this clause, we can see that there already is, in subsection (2)(c), substantial leeway for the Secretary of State to take

“further powers to direct a revenue collection counterparty to do, or not to do, things specified in the regulations or the direction.”

That is pretty wide leeway for the Secretary of State to have in the Bill already.

What the “may” does in this subsection is to cast further uncertainty on what sort of things the Secretary of State may do. I am sure that the Secretary of State will actually want, on this occasion, a “must” for what is conferred on the Secretary of State with further powers. That is very helpful to the Secretary of State for precisely the reasons that the Minister outlined a moment ago. The “may” that is in subsection (3) is a different sense of the word “may”. How it would read fully is, “the provision that may well be made by virtue of subsection (2).” It is used in the conditional, whereas the “may” in subsection (2) is a dilution of the imperative. I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to know that that is the case, but I am afraid that it does not accord with what he had to say about the use of “may” and “must” in this provision.

I am not going to press the amendment to a Division, but I think we need to be more careful about how we draft our legislation overall, to make sure that it does what it says on the outside. I am sure this will not be the last opportunity to raise this issue in the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18

Direction to offer to contract

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18 builds on clause 17. Subsection (1) explicitly gives the Secretary of State the power to direct a revenue collection counterparty to offer to contract with a designated nuclear company on terms specified in the direction. Those terms will be the outcome of negotiations between the Government and the project company. This power is again replicated from the contract for difference, namely section 10 of the Energy Act 2013, but has been adapted to account for the nature of the revenue collection contracts as a bespoke arrangement.

Regulations can set out the circumstances in which a direction to contract can or must be made, as well as the terms that may or must be attached to the direction. If the Secretary of State does not have the ability to specify when a contract should be offered under the legislation, there could be delays in the offering of a contract to a project company. That could damage investor confidence and slow progress on the project at a crucial time.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 18 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19

Supplier obligation

I beg to move amendment 15, in clause 19, page 16, line 11, at end insert—

“(4A) Revenue regulations may make provision to prevent electricity suppliers from recovering the costs of paying a revenue collection counterparty from customers who qualify for the Warm Home Discount Scheme.”

This amendment would mean that electricity bill payers who qualify for the Warm Homes Discount scheme would not be liable for levies on their bills that pay into the RAB revenue collection fund.

Amendment 15 relates to the latter end of clause 19. Hon. Members will see that the clause suggests that revenue regulations may make provision for electricity suppliers to pay a revenue collection counterparty for a number of purposes, including

“to hold sums in reserve; to cover losses in the case of insolvency or default of an electricity supplier.”

According to our shared understanding of how the RAB would work, the regulations would require electricity suppliers to pay into a revenue collection counterparty for those purposes. Thereby, as the RAB consultation makes clear, if that company has been required to pay into the revenue collection counterparty, the company could make restitution for the money it had paid into the revenue collection counterparty by adjusting its bills to reflect that fact.

We are in exactly the same territory as contracts for difference, where there is a levy on customers and the supply company recovers the money that it has paid into the levy fund by passing that levy on to customers in their bills. We have a problem with placing additional levies on already sky-high bills, but that is how this arrangement will work. We question how that process will work. As hon. Members will also know, we currently have within our electricity supply arrangements a warm home discount scheme, which provides for a number of bill payers to get £140 off their bills each year if they qualify. There are some issues about the size of the company relating to that obligation but, in principle, pretty much all customers on a low income or a guaranteed credit element of pension credit will, or should, receive that warm home discount.

The energy company has to supply that discount to its customers. It may socialise the costs through its overall bills as a sort of secondary levy, but it gives a proportion of electricity customers a permanent reduction in their bills due to their particular circumstances, such as—as the discount suggests—particular fuel poverty-type issues in heating their homes and meeting their fuel bills.

The effect of a levy—in this instance, quite a substantial levy—to customers under these circumstances, particularly during the construction phase of a regulated asset base operation, would be to put, say, an extra £10 on the bill of someone who is already receiving a warm home discount, so that their fuel bills go up. A number of people would be placed in fuel poverty as a result of that difference, and therefore, ironically, it is quite possible that more people would be eligible for the warm home discount as a result.

When and if this levy comes on stream, we do not think that the process should include the supply company passing on that increase to those people who are already paying their bills but have a warm home discount. Those companies should not be able to recover the cost of payment into the revenue collection counterparty by passing it to those people receiving warm home discount. This would mean a socialisation of that cost to other bill payers, but the warm home discount would nevertheless remain at the right proportion of the bill, not diminish in value because that person was required to pay that levy to the energy company so that it could recoup its costs related to the revenue collection counterparty.

This is quite a simple amendment to try to return that warm home discount to the position that it would have been in before that levy was introduced. I would suggest that it is in line with what the Government intended for that warm home discount in the first place. Although other customers may pay a little more on their bills, it would maintain the relative billing position for the poorest and most vulnerable customers, including those in receipt of a guaranteed credit element of pension credit, helping those who have considerable difficulties in paying bills and are perhaps in fuel poverty as a result. We would like this power to ensure that energy companies do not incorporate those customers into the arrangements for collection and distribution of money coming into the revenue collection counterparty.

I will just say a couple of things. I was listening to the arguments and if the amendment goes to a vote, I will be happy to support it and do anything I can to try to support the most vulnerable and not create any more fuel poverty. Listening to the arguments, they seem to confirm that the concept as a whole is a costly burden on consumers. As the shadow Minister said, it creates a levy that will put more people into fuel poverty. The levy will not just last for a few years; it starts with a construction period of 10 to 15 years in all likelihood and then a 60-year contract. Rather than tinkering at the edges, protecting some people and pushing other people into fuel poverty, the heart of the matter is that this is a costly white elephant exercise. That said, I would still support the amendment for what it aims to do.

As has been stated, amendment 15 looks to make provision to exclude from the RAB charge those consumers who are eligible for the warm home discount scheme. I understand the good motive and the effect of what the hon. Member for Southampton, Test is proposing. For background, the warm home discount is a Government initiative to take £140 from the energy bills of consumers who receive the guarantee credit element of pension credit, or who are on a low income and receive certain means-tested benefits. We have already proposed increasing the value of the rebate to £150 per annum in any case.

As we have discussed, if a new project is funded through the RAB model, suppliers will be obliged to pay towards it. It is expected that the suppliers will pass these costs on to consumers. While I do not intend to go back over the arguments in favour of the RAB model, we believe the arrangement will facilitate private investment while also reducing the costs of delivering new nuclear projects. I understand the Opposition’s desire to protect consumers on the lowest incomes, which is what the Government are already doing. The Opposition are proposing to increase that element of protection. Of course, these consumers can spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy costs. As we all know, energy bills are regressive.

However, a large-scale project funded under the scheme will add, at most, a few pounds a year to typical household energy bills during the early stages of construction and less than £1 per month on average during the full construction phase of the project. The Government have taken a number of actions to protect low-income households from energy costs, as laid out in our updated fuel poverty strategy. That includes not only the warm home discount but cold weather payments and the household support fund.

Isn’t the problem with some of the schemes aimed at protecting the most vulnerable that they are paid for by other consumers? By default, the schemes are always creating another cohort to move into fuel poverty, because actual schemes to help people are paid for by other consumers.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but I do not think the amendment in any way answers his question. In fact, if I have understood the amendment correctly, it would probably make those who are not on the warm home discount pay even more, so I am afraid he is making a speech against the amendment, however inadvertently.

As set out in the heat and buildings strategy late last month, we will also publish a fairness and affordability call for evidence to set out the options for energy levies and the obligations to help rebalance electricity and gas prices and to support green choices, with a view to taking decisions in 2022. We are looking at the totality of how these schemes work, then looking at the consultation and then taking decisions on the wider nature of these schemes next year. It is right that broader conversations about how to deal fairly with customers’ bills are dealt with as part of this process, rather than by taking a narrower approach for each technology and funding scheme, which the amendment seeks to do.

As we know, the legislation obliges the Secretary of State to have regard to consumer interests and costs when setting up the RAB. As part of that, the Secretary of State will monitor any cumulative impact from multiple RABs being in operation.

The Minister has just mentioned the obligation on the Secretary of State that is in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test made the point that this levy may be £10 a year on average, or it may be more. Have the Government made any assessment of the number of customers that that increase will potentially tip into a qualifying benefit, therefore making them eligible for the warm home discount? Have they assessed what a nuclear RAB might do to the number of people who are eligible for that discount? The argument we are trying to make is that there is potentially a saving for Government here by socialising the risk among non-warm home discount consumers when it comes to funding these types of projects.

The hon. Gentleman asks a fair question, which I would answer in a couple of ways. First, this issue is best considered in the round as part of the process we have outlined, with the consultation and decisions to be made next year. Secondly, the actual amount would depend very much on the nuclear project in question. What we have shown is that we believe the RAB model will make bills overall less expensive to the consumer by roughly £10 a year for an average dual-fuel bill payer, as the hon. Gentleman has rightly pointed out. However, that amount will ultimately depend on the size and scope of the nuclear plant that is proposed. I think a better way to deal with this issue is to deal with it in the round, in the way the Government are proposing. I stress that the RAB is designed to save consumers money over the life of the plant; that is one of the key reasons why we are proposing it.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test for tabling this carefully considered amendment and for raising the important issue of energy costs for low-income households. Nevertheless, I hope that I have shown both that the Government are already taking action to help this group and that this clause forms part of a wider conversation about how we transition our energy system away from fossil fuels in a way that is fair and affordable for all. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

I am not sure that the Minister quite gets this. The warm home discount was introduced in 2011 and has been at the level of £140 since then, so the Government suggesting that it should be increased to £150 is not an action of unparalleled generosity: it actually just catches up with inflation over the period that the warm home discount has been in place. That discount has been decreasing in value in real terms over the years, so increasing it is simply a matter of reasonable housekeeping, rather than innate generosity.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun for getting in first. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, given the massive increases in energy prices that we have seen—way outstripping inflation—this increase does not touch the sides of what is needed?

The hon. Member is absolutely right. I am sure that we could do some back-of-a-fag-packet calculations about what we are going to need from the warm home discount, given the rises that are likely to occur under the fuel price cap in the coming spring and over the next six months, but it will certainly be rather more than £10.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another odd aspect of the Minister’s argument is that raising the warm home discount to £150—an extra £10—is really significant and helps people, but an extra £10 on their bill is okay and something we do not need to worry about? The two cannot both be right.

The hon. Member makes a very interesting point, which I was rather slower than him to get to. He is quite right: if this is going to be £1 a month during the construction phase, therefore adding only £10 to £12 to the bill per year, it is contradictory to say that one is insignificant while the other is very significant.

There is also the fact that £12 a year, or £10 a year or whatever, will affect different people’s bills in different ways, because the bill for a large family, or someone with a large house, will be higher in total, and the £12 nuclear levy will be a smaller proportion of it than for someone who is eligible for the warm home discount—perhaps a single pensioner living in a small house, with a lower bill but nevertheless without the wherewithal to pay it. That £12 would be a higher imposition on their bill than it would on other people’s bills.

I think we all agree that the warm home discount is an important actor in combating fuel poverty and ensuring that the most vulnerable people in our society as far as energy costs are concerned do not have it even worse than they do at the moment and are given some assistance with their bills. We all ought to be very mindful of that when we put levies on people’s bills. What the Minister says about who we do and do not put into fuel poverty when we change levies on fuel bills is true, but that is an argument for better indexation, not for continuing with the warm home discount in the way that we are.

I am sorry to say that we will have to divide the Committee, because we think that this is an important principle that ought to be upheld. We do not want to the effects of the levies, which of course may be much more than £12, depending on how the allowable costs ceiling goes, to directly affect the warm home discount, which we think is a very important part of the energy landscape and the battle to combat fuel poverty. We would like it to be on the record that we did not simply allow this to be brushed under the carpet, and therefore wish to vote on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

I beg to move amendment 20, in clause 19, page 16, line 25, at end insert—

“(6B) Prior to making provisions by virtual of subsection (4), the Secretary of State must consider—

(a) the number of customers the supplier has;

(b) the level of bad debt from customers;

(c) the liabilities of the electricity supplier including any renewables obligations due and what levels of collateral will risk the supplier’s operations as a going concern;

(d) the impact on consumer bills of upfront payments to the revenue collection company; and

(e) the value and extent of forward hedging the supplier has in the market.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to consider the matters listed before requiring electricity suppliers to provide financial collateral to a revenue collection counterparty.

The other day, the Minister challenged us in the SNP to table amendments, so in that spirit of co-operation—given that I am fundamentally against the Bill but have still tabled amendments to improve it—I look forward to him accepting them.

Clause 19 further confirms the Government’s desperation to provide unlimited guarantees and support mechanisms to get nuclear projects—as we know, that means Sizewell C —off the ground. For me, the clause is further proof of how ill-thought through the Bill is, and how loosely many clauses have been drafted. This clause will be blindly accepted by Government MPs without further thought or debate apart from some challenge from this side of the Committee.

Yesterday, energy supplier Bulb Energy, which has 1.7 million customers, effectively went into administration. Given that 23 energy suppliers have gone bust since August of this year, it beggars belief that the UK Government have introduced clause 19, which may require energy suppliers to pay money up front. Cash flow insolvency is a major issue in the energy supply market at the moment, but the Bill could place further demands on suppliers.

The clause will allow the revenue collection counterparty to set the form and terms of the financial collateral that it demands from electricity suppliers. There is no guidance or controls; there is simply the concept of a nuclear project being so important that revenues must be guaranteed for the nuclear company. Subsection (2) is the start of what I have no doubt will be an accountant’s field day. Subsection (2)(a) is a typical catch-all, as it states that revenue may be collected under

“such…descriptions of its costs as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.

As an aside, will the Minister tell us whether it is really the Secretary of State who will make those assessments, as the clause states, or will it actually be the regulator?

Subsection (2)(b) and subsection (4) refer to holding sums in reserve and to suppliers providing financial collateral. The kicker with the financial collateral is that subsections (6)(a) and (b) state that the revenue collection counterparty may

“determine the form and terms of any financial collateral”

and may “calculate” the payments that are due. There seems to be no independent scrutiny and no way to challenge those demands. Then, for good measure, subsections (8) and (9) provide for the revenue collection counterparty to make demands on interest, debt collection and further add-ons. That certainly seems very balanced towards the assessments that the revenue collection counterparty makes.

Paragraphs (c) and (d) of subsection (8) mention “references to arbitration” and “appeals”, but what will those processes and procedures look like? Yet again, there is too little detail. Without suitable protections and considerations, the clause and its consequences could damage well-run energy suppliers and those that are struggling to get by, and that is if they get through the ongoing crisis.

Why should energy suppliers pay up front to cover RAB payments? It might suit the Government to have clauses to protect funding for new nuclear, but that could lead to massive cash flow issues for the electricity supply companies that I mentioned earlier. As they would be paying in advance of receiving income from customers, they would need to manage that credit issue by servicing debt costs. Those costs would then be passed on to consumers, further raising the cost of our bills.

I have already stated my opposition to the Bill and to a new nuclear power station, but from my perspective as a consumer, the Government want me to tie into the construction costs payments for 10 to 15 years in a 60-year RAB contract, which will go beyond my lifetime. Then, just to be on the safe side, my electricity company, to which I pay money, will possibly have to provide money up front, which will cost me, as a consumer, more money. That is a ridiculous concept; it just does not make sense.

Although I am against the principle and poor drafting of the Bill, it is important that we debate clause 19, which is why I have tabled the amendment. I hope that paragraph (a) of the amendment is self-explanatory: any collateral or money that is asked for would need to be pro rata based on the energy supplier’s ability to pay, which would be based on its customer base. In paragraph (b), I highlight that bad debt needs to be considered, because some companies have much higher numbers of vulnerable customers, which means that they are likely to carry more bad debt. That dynamic could change further with the collapse of so many energy supply companies.

Paragraph (c) says that the revenue counterparty needs to look at the other liabilities that companies might be carrying. It is interesting that, when we have been debating the energy retail market and energy supplier crisis, the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box accepted that companies go bust every year and said that part of that was that suppliers tend to go bust at the time their renewables obligations become due. I thought that that was a very flippant attitude, and that is not right. It also seems bizarre to accept that companies will go bust rather than pay their renewables obligations, when the Bill demands that payments be taken from companies up front to ensure that the RAB payments are secured for the nuclear company.

Paragraph (d) further highlights and forces consideration of the cashflow and credit costs that will be imposed on customers by the demand for any up-front collateral. Finally, paragraph (e) looks at forward hedging. The whole point of hedging forward for, say, a year in advance is to secure energy at a given price so that companies know that they have stability in terms of what they have paid and that they can pass that price certainty on to the customer. If a company is hedging forward and has to use its cashflow and securities to do that, that needs to be taken into account before any other moneys are demanded up front to cover the RAB payments.

I hope that I have again made my concerns about aspects of the Bill clear. There are genuinely unintended consequences that could flow from the operation of clause 19 and demanding collateral up front. As I said in my optimistic opening sentences, I look forward to the Minister accepting the amendment and saying, “Well done and thank you.”

I am very sympathetic to the amendment, although I do not think that it will do exactly what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun would like. It would be helpful to have some clarification from the Minister as to exactly how the payments will be organised by the revenue counterparty body.

Although those payments are up front, in that the electricity supply companies would be required to make a payment on behalf of the customer into the counterparty before the power station had been built, that does not mean that the payment would all be up front. It means that the payment would be staggered over a period, which might be the whole of the production period of the nuclear power plant, according to what was required at particular times of the construction, so that the counterparty had sufficient funds to meet those calls from its revenues at any one time, but did not have a large surplus against calls. The counterparty would therefore have to modulate and regulate its calls on the energy supply companies as the process of construction continued.

Presumably, then, a company’s health would not be set against an overall up-front payment in that instance. All companies would be required to pay into that levy arrangement regularly, so there would not be a greater demand on one company than another or a large amount of money demanded in one go. That is my understanding of how the system would work, but I appreciate what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said about the 23 companies that have gone bust recently. As the energy market stabilises, I think there will not be many companies to take a levy from in the first place. Those companies that are able to pay a levy will by and large be those that were in sufficiently robust health in the first instance to weather the storm of high gas prices and high energy costs—there are a number of other reasons why companies may or may not be reasonably robust but that is a debate for another day.

Overall, I do not think that the amendment does exactly what it is intended to do.

I think I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but subsection (4) says:

“Revenue regulations may make provision to require electricity suppliers to provide financial collateral to a revenue collection counterparty (whether in cash, securities or any other form).”

I still read that as meaning that cash could be asked for to be paid up front.

Indeed, and that is why we need better clarification from the Minister. Is there a distinction between cash up front in general—that is, one pays before getting any result from a nuclear plant that is being built—or cash up front in the sense of taking all the stuff in the agreed revenue allowance? Would that be taken either mostly up front, all in one go, or at level that an energy company would find unaffordable during particular elements of the process? There is still some uncertainty about exactly how that process would work.

I have a lot of sympathy with the argument of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudon. If the revenue counterparty decided that it was going to take a very large amount of levy early in the process to have lots of money in the bank and to be able to cover any eventualities connected with the construction process, that would be a pretty unreasonable imposition on energy companies, particularly in the present circumstances. However, I think there are least implied elements of regulation in the Bill that would prevent that from easily happening, and I would be interested to hear whether the Minister thinks that is the case. If he does, where in the Bill is that, and which arrangements would be preferrable in terms of the revenue collection counterparty operating on a more equitable basis as the construction period progressed?

I thank the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and for Aberdeen North for tabling their amendment. Of course the Government welcome all Opposition parties tabling amendments; that does not necessarily mean that we will agree with the aforementioned amendments, but it is a useful process to test and probe the Bill, and I think our publics would like to see a process whereby all Opposition parties tabled amendments to test the Government’s proposition. I fully buy into that process, but I do not happen to agree with this amendment.

The amendment addresses how the interests of suppliers and their customers should be considered when making provision in regulations for the supplier to pay the revenue collection counterparty. It would also require the Secretary of State to have regard to the other liabilities of electricity suppliers—the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun talked with topicality about that—as well as to the impact that collateral requirements will have on a supplier’s operation. I thank the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady for ensuring that the Government consider the impact on suppliers and consumers when establishing the RAB revenue stream.

I reassure Members that the Government intend to act in a way that effectively manages the payment obligations on suppliers and, through them, consumers. We do not believe, however, that the amendment is the best way of ensuring that. First, the provision of collateral by electricity suppliers is a form of security that has been administered very successfully in the contract for difference regime. As I said on clause 15, the regime seeks to replicate that tried-and-tested regime, which has functioned effectively to bring investment into new energy projects for the last eight years.

We have been clear that in designing the RAB revenue stream we are seeking to replicate many of the provisions of contracts for difference to help to provide a familiar and workable framework for suppliers, but it is not just about supporting investment. We will protect suppliers from paying unreasonable amounts of collateral and ensure that overpayment of collateral is returned to suppliers.

The protection in the Bill is through the regulation of the process and the oversight, for example by the authority, in this case Ofgem, which will ensure that any amounts paid to the generation company are reasonable. The hon. Gentleman is right to ask who will set the parameters, the Secretary of State or the regulator. The Secretary of State sets the initial licence conditions; however, it is the authority, in this case Ofgem or its equivalent, that will ensure that any amounts are reasonable and in the interests of existing and future consumers. That is very much in the Bill.

Could the Minister provide more information on that, in the form of a letter perhaps? We have raised concerns on how companies, and therefore consumers, will be protected. I appreciate what he says, but that was not obvious to us, so a response in writing would be hugely helpful.

That is a reasonable request. I am saying that this is a tried-and-tested process that has been there throughout the contract for difference regime. Paying in collateral, and the way that collateral operates, is something that has been around for decades, but if it is helpful I am happy to write to the hon. Lady and copy in members of the Committee to explain in more detail how it works in the CfD regime and the Energy Act 2013. I should also make it clear that the Bill provides a framework for the RAB revenue stream and requires that the detail of suppliers’ payment obligations is set out in the secondary regulations that will need approval from both Houses. Ahead of that, and as required by the Bill, we will publish and consult on the draft regulations. We will include British energy suppliers within the consultation, so they will have the opportunity to feed in any views from an energy supplier perspective.

In the context of protecting our most vulnerable energy consumers, which was the subject of the previous amendment, I refer Members to my comments in that debate setting out the numerous actions that the Government are taking to help low-income households, including the warm home discount, cold weather payments and the household support fund. I hope that I have assured the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun that the design of the RAB revenue stream will ensure that the interests of consumers are protected and that mechanisms are in place to protect suppliers from disproportionate requirements that would affect their ability to operate. As such, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary, and I hope that he will withdraw it.

It was no surprise that the Minister did not accept the amendment. It will be no surprise to him that he has not completely satisfied me either with his explanation. We keep hearing the argument that we are trying to replicate the CfD model, which is interesting considering that we are introducing the RAB model. It was said that CfD would not work for nuclear, but now we are trying to replicate certain things. He said that there will be consultation and secondary legislation, but there are no guarantees on what the Government will do or how they will respond to any consultation. Secondary legislation can easily get steamrollered through this place anyway. Given that, I would prefer to press my amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

I beg to move amendment 16, in clause 19, page 17, line 2, at end insert—

“(10) Persistent non-payment of sums owed to the counterparty by an electricity supplier may be referred to OFGEM, which may in such circumstances place the electricity supplier’s licence under review.”

This amendment would allow cases of persistent non-payment of sums owed to the counterparty by an electricity supplier to be referred to OFGEM.

The amendment follows on quite well from our previous debate. Although the issue is not entirely certain, the collateral expected to be paid by energy supplier companies would be required in a measured way. The Secretary of State would make sure that the revenue collection counterparty did not try to scoop up huge funds in one go—not that I think that very likely—and would regulate the collateral so that it was more or less allied with the calls on it by the nuclear company at that stage.

If the revenue collection counterparty had a large pot of money sitting in its bank account at any stage, one would expect that money to be redistributed to the supplier companies from which it had been collected, and one would hope that in the end it would be redistributed back to customers. I think that there is still some way to go in deciding how exactly the regulation is to be set up, but I welcome the Minister’s statement that that is roughly how the Government assume the process will be undertaken. That being the case, there is then the question of what happens if supplier companies do not pay what the revenue collection counterparty has required of them, assuming that it is a reasonable payment. That leads on to some existing issues with how levies are collected by counterparties.

There has already been some mention of what happens with Ofgem’s collection of the renewables obligation, and of the collective obligations of energy companies to supply the right amount in buy-outs, renewables obligation payments or whatever. For those who think that the renewables obligation is done and dusted and that it came to an end in 2017, I should mention that it is still alive in a ghostly fashion and is collecting money until 2027, I think, so the obligations continue.

If one were being very unkind, one might say that a barometer of the health of some of the smaller energy companies that have recently been involved in the struggle to stay afloat has often been whether their renewables obligation payments were outstanding at the time of closure, which I think is the end of each October. There were reports from Ofgem, I think in September, that x number of companies had not paid their renewables obligation levies, and that if they did not do so by the closure date, it is conceivable that action would be taken—which could include, in the end, the removal of the company’s licence to operate.

One could say that that is what happened over the recent period, in that companies that knew they were in some difficulty with their renewables obligation payments at the end of October folded pretty soon afterwards because they were not going to pay them. That has had the unfortunate side effect that that non-payment has had to be socialised among other energy companies in order to ensure that the fund is the right amount to meet the renewables obligation certificates going around. Nevertheless, the regime appears to have a sanction relating to an energy company’s licence, so that we can ensure that payments are brought in, or that there is fairly swift closure relating to the outstanding amount, so we at least know roughly where we are regarding the payment pool at a future date.

As the Bill stands, that does not appear to be the procedure that will be adopted regarding levies into the revenue collection counterparty. Indeed, the Bill states that if payment is not received, collection will be a civil matter. In the amendment, we suggest that we adopt a similar procedure to that which is in place with Ofgem concerning non-payment of renewables obligation payments. In the case of persistent non-payment, a sanction should be available regarding the continuation of the company’s licence. The Minister may say that going through the civil courts is just as good. What concerned me about the arrangements in respect of renewables obligations was that some energy companies were borrowing their payments in order to stay in business. That is not what a healthy energy company should do, long term; it will not result in a secure landscape as regards collateral inputs to a counterparty.

A better way of proceeding would be to have in place the sort of regime that we have for the RO. The amendment would allow the Secretary of State to introduce that kind of arrangement, if he thought it a good idea for the stability of collateral payments. It gives him an extra option, and goes beyond the regime set out in the Bill, so that we can ensure that payments are properly levied, paid on time, and not resisted.

As the hon. Gentleman outlined, amendment 16 addresses how the obligations of suppliers under revenue collection contracts should be enforced. Clause 19 deals with suppliers’ obligations in relation to the RAB. It lays out what the revenue collection regulations may provide for. This includes how the obligations placed on suppliers by RAB revenue collection contracts can be enforced by the revenue collection counterparty. The powers in clause 19 are supported by clause 22, entitled “Enforcement”, which states:

“regulations may make provision for”

obligations under revenue collection contracts to be enforced

“by the Authority as if they were relevant requirements…for the purposes of section 25 of the Electricity Act 1989.”

This means that a breach of such a contract can be treated as if it were a breach of a licence condition, and this allows the authority to obtain an order to secure compliance and impose financial penalties.

The amendment would set up a different enforcement route, outside the regulations, by allowing the revenue collection counterparty to refer suppliers who persistently fail to meet their obligations to the authority—that is, to Ofgem. Ofgem could then consider whether to remove a supplier’s licence. Of course, I welcome the Opposition’s focus on ensuring adequate protection from non-compliance. Creating strong enforcement procedures will be vital to give investors confidence that the RAB will function and that the project will receive the funds to which it is entitled. However, the amendment leaves out much of the detail necessary for a clear understanding and the smooth functioning of the enforcement procedure. For example, it does not clarify what should be classed as “Persistent non-payment”, or the process for referral. It also does not make clear what Ofgem would take into account when reviewing a supplier’s licence, or the process for appeal.

The hon. Gentleman feels that a supplier’s failure to make payments to the counterparty should have consequences for their licence, but those concerns are adequately addressed by clause 22, which states that the regulations may make provision to treat non-compliance as if it were a breach of a licence condition, and to allow the imposition of suitable penalties against suppliers through tried-and-tested, long-standing legislation. This will ensure compliance, and will mean that obligations under revenue collection contracts are met.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s constructive contributions, his proposing the amendment, and his recognition of the need for strong enforcement provisions, but I hope I have convinced all hon. Members of the appropriateness of the Government’s approach, which already treats non-compliance in the way that is suggested in the amendment, but in a far more watertight way, and that the hon. Gentleman therefore feels able to withdraw his amendment.

The Minister talks about taking action in a more watertight way, and suggests that we look at clause 22, which relates to clause 25, which relates to a series of clauses relating to the Electricity Act 1989. It is a sort of Marx brothers’ “A Day at the Races” form guide arrangement, whereby in order to understand a guide, a person needs another one, and so on endlessly—and they end up missing the race.

The Minister will be aware that there are a number of instances in which we are asked to go way back, via regulations, into Acts such as the Utilities Act 2000 and the Electricity Act, and we are reluctant to do that. Indeed, there are a couple of quite incomprehensible repeals at the end of the Bill, to which I might draw the Committee’s attention; one has to go through four or five stages before one can understand what on earth those are about.

In this instance, it is possibly true that we could, by regulation, apply the provisions of section 25 of the Electricity Act 1989 relating to licence modification or removal; but that provision is not in the Bill, but possibly applied by regulation. In the Bill there is one remedy, and one remedy only. The Minister may say, “Trust us; we may produce regulations that have the effect that I have suggested.” However, it probably would have been wiser for some of those things to be in the Bill. Of course, the amendment does not do all those things that the Minister mentioned. I fully accept that it is deficient from that point of view, because it does not mention the four or five other pieces of legislation that have to be taken into account, amended or consequentially changed. It merely allows us to make the point that these things ought to be in the Bill, so it is a probing amendment.

I hope that the Minister will think about whether there are better ways of getting those different forms of regulatory certainty than this extended process of referring to other pieces of legislation, which may become more or less opaque as one reads them. It would be much more straightforward for this provision to be in the Bill and clear for everyone to see. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20

Payments to electricity suppliers

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20 seeks to ensure that electricity suppliers can be reimbursed in cases where the counterparty has overcharged suppliers or overpaid a licensee nuclear company. The clause is similar to the approach in section 17 of the Energy Act 2013. It is proposed that suppliers will be charged their share of a RAB payment based on their expected market share. Where their actual market share is less than expected, reconciliation processes will be carried out and the revenue collection counterparty will repay them the difference.

Likewise, when the relevant nuclear licensee company’s forecasted market revenue exceeds its allowed revenue over a given period, the counterparty could be required to repay any overpayments to suppliers. Again, that would replicate the approach used in contracts for difference. Subsections (1) and (2) allow regulations to be made requiring the counterparty to make payments to suppliers in such instances. Regulations made will be subject to the affirmative procedure, given the effect they will have on electricity suppliers and other relevant bodies.

I do not oppose the clause, but I want to ask the Minister about what it actually says. At first sight, it appears to say—this was the shared understanding that we established—that there were circumstances where a revenue collection counterparty could pay collateral back to electricity suppliers. We are not clear over how long a period the collateral might be repaid, or at what point it might be considered that there was sufficient additional collateral in the funds of the counterparty to warrant a repayment.

The funds might be held for quite a long time while consideration is given to whether the nuclear company is likely to overperform on its revenue generating activities in the production phase so consistently that the money can be safely restored to the supply company. The counterparty might hold the money over a considerable period, thinking there would be variations or fluctuations in the revenue stream obtained by the nuclear power company, and that the money might therefore need to be called on, if it dipped below the range implied by the overall allowed costs arrangements. There is that question of the likely length of the period over which repayments take place.

However, the second question, which is also quite important, is what would happen to that money once the counterparty had restored it to the electricity supplier. There is nothing in this clause that says anything other than, “That money is restored to the electricity supplier, and the electricity supplier is very pleased about that and puts the money in its bank account.”

However, the electricity supplier has collected that money from the customers—albeit at the direction of the counterparty—in the form of an additional levy placed on their bills. If the electricity supply company is getting that money back again, then as night follows day, the company should give that money back to the customers and not just hold it in its bank account. There is nothing in this clause to ensure that that happens. I would be interested to hear whether the Minister thinks that such a requirement ought to be added to the regulatory procedure that will be undertaken. He may want to go away and think about whether he can at least indicate to the Committee that it will be assumed, and probably will happen, that as long as the surplus funds can be distributed back to suppliers by the counterparty, they should be given back to the customers.

Essentially, we have a couple of questions, but we do not oppose this clause standing part. I am sure that the Minister will be able to reassure us about his intentions with regard to making this clause operate as well as it can.

I will try to deal with the two questions that the hon. Gentleman raised. First, he asked whether the funds can be held for a long time, and about the period over which they can be held. Obviously, the regulations will be laid before Parliament in due course, and will be subject to the affirmative procedure. However, I point him to how the contract for difference regime works under the 2013 Act. My belief is that in this case, the reconciliation takes place after a period of months—that is probably the best way to describe it. It depends on what the hon. Gentleman means by somebody holding on to funds, or indeed having a shortfall of funds, for “quite a long time”, but we always have to strike the balance between what is operationally straightforward and what prevents somebody from holding on to funds, or from having a shortfall of funds over a period of time. However, the workings of the contract for difference regime might give the hon. Gentleman the most likely pointers as to what the regulations may look like; they will obviously be subject to consultation in due course anyway.

The hon. Gentleman also asked what happens to the money, and whether the supplier is obliged to return the money to the customer. He raises a fair point. The difficulty is that there is no obligation on the supplier to take the money for the RAB from the customer in the first place. The assumption is that the supplier will bill the customer for the cost of the RAB, but there is not an obligation to do so, so I am not sure that creating an obligation in this legislation to send back money the other way would be appropriate. Again, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the workings of the contract for difference under the 2013 Act.

That raises an interesting, and quite concerning, point: what in the legislation prevents a supplier from overcharging its customers on the basis that it is levying the RAB? Is there a limit to which a supplier can levy the customer? On the basis of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, the supplier could overcharge the customer, make the payment owed to the counterparty and find itself with additional funds raised from those customers.

First, the whole process will be regulated by the authority—in this case Ofgem—which would have oversight. Secondly, that would also be a matter for the regulations that are to be published in due course. Thirdly, the frequent reconciliations would obviate risk of that happening in the way the hon. Gentleman describes.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21

Application of sums held by a revenue collection counterparty

I beg to move amendment 17, in clause 21, page 17, line 34, leave out from ‘are’ to end of line and insert ‘not to be paid into the Consolidated Fund unless there is no other alternative.’

This amendment would require the Government to consider alternatives to the absorption into the consolidated fund of sums held by a revenue collection counterparty on behalf of energy bill payers.

Amendment 17 takes aim at a different part of the undergrowth we are dealing with in the often fairly complex arrangements related to the revenue collection counterparty and all that goes with it. In this instance, we have two subsections in italics because they include a Treasury implication. Clause 21(5) says:

“The provision that may be made by virtue of subsection (4) includes provisions that sums are to be paid, or not to be paid, into the Consolidated Fund.”

In that regard, subsection (4) states:

“Revenue regulations may make provision about the application of sums held by a revenue collection counterparty.”

Effectively, that subsection allows regulations to be made about the sums held by a revenue collection counterparty. We have already discussed how long they may be held for and the circumstances under which they may be paid back—[Interruption.] The Minister and his Whip are discussing when we will finish, I suspect. They must not worry; we will finish on time.

The clause adds a new dimension to the question of where the sums held by the revenue collection counterparty may go and, indeed, suggests where they might go, presumably, after the process outlined by the Minister. At a certain stage, the existence of surplus amounts held by the revenue collection counterparty is established and then there is an issue as to where that money goes. Clause 21(5) says that the money may be paid into the Consolidated Fund, which is the Treasury. It therefore gives rise to the idea that money could have been raised from customers and paid into the revenue collection counterparty by suppliers. Levies are raised on customers and possibly overpaid, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich has just said. The money sits in the account of the revenue collection counterparty for a time and then, when the decision is made about what to do with the money, the Treasury nicks it. That is not right and it is not what should be done. As we have established, if there are surpluses in those funds, they should certainly be returned to the supplier and the supplier should make sure that they are returned to the customer.

As we have said on a number of occasions, the customer is at the heart of the process as they are funding it through their bills. They are not paying free money into the Treasury but paying into the process on a reasonable basis of allowed costs. If those allowed costs prove to be more than is required, the least they should reasonably expect is to get their money back.

There should be no talk of the Consolidated Fund in the Bill; I do not think it is right that it should be in the Bill. We have sought to suggest in the amendment that only if there are no other recourses for the payment of those funds should it even be considered that money go into the Consolidated Fund. I can conceivably imagine circumstances in which nothing else could be done with the money but put it into the Consolidated Fund, but it is a real squeeze for me to think that.

The Secretary of State must be able to think of better purposes for the money than for it to go in that direction. The amendment strengthens the Secretary of State’s ability to do that. I hope that the Secretary of State—the Minister; I am promoting him again—will be happy to accept it as a clear understanding of what we want to do with the money unless absolutely pressed to do otherwise.

I rise to speak briefly to amendment 17, because it relates to an important matter that builds on our earlier discussions. I listened to the Minister and heard what he said about the revenue collection contracts arrangement seeking to replicate the tried and tested CfD arrangement, as he put it. The thing that makes what we are talking about different is that there has never been a CfD arrangement of the size of the RAB nuclear model. The scale of the capital commitment involved in a nuclear project dwarfs anything that we have seen before. The changes in total nominal amounts that are likely to happen from year to year in the scale of that capital value could mean that we have large fluctuations in the amounts being collected by the counterparty.

The Minister has said that regulations will address that and are forthcoming via the affirmative procedure. He expects that the reconciliation process of attempting to ensure that the revenue stream matches the allowed expenditure will happen twice a year, but there is the possibility that very large sums will sit within the counterparty, even if just for months. The amendment tries to address the possibility of those funds, or a proportion of them, finding their way into the Consolidated Fund.

It surely has to be the case, and I assume that it is the Minister’s intention via regulations, that the reconciliation process should be as frequent as possible so that the revenue stream matches the allowed expenditure at any point in the construction. I foresee circumstances in the production phase, however—perhaps not in the construction phase, because it is unlikely that a future nuclear project will come in under budget given their history—in which a company’s revenue from power sales might exceed the allowed revenue. There is a chance that we could see large mismatches and, therefore, lots of funds being stored up in the counterparty.

The central thrust of what the Opposition are trying to do with the Bill is to protect consumers and ensure that they pay the lowest possible amount to get a project such as the one that we are talking about onstream. It is therefore really important that we ensure that the Treasury cannot in any circumstances, unless it has exhausted all other options, take part of the funds that may sit with the counterparty for relatively brief periods. The Treasury could decide to take sizeable amounts, and it is important that they flow back to suppliers and, ultimately, to customers. That is the thrust of the amendment.

As the hon. Members for Southampton, Test and for Greenwich and Woolwich laid out, amendment 17 addresses the situation in which funds held by the counterparty may be paid into the Consolidated Fund, which of course is the Government’s general bank account at the Bank of England. Currently, the legislation allows the revenue regulations to provide for sums to be paid into the Consolidated Fund. The intention of the amendment is to narrow the scope of that so that the regulations can provide for sums to be paid into the Consolidated Fund only where there is no alternative.

I thank the hon. Members for the amendment, which they explained well. It certainly echoes my sentiment that consumer funds should not generally go into Government accounts. I reassure Members that we envisage the power to have limited but important uses. For example, it could be used to ensure that the counter- party repays a loan given by the Government—by the taxpayer—to respond to an emergency. That is not a hypothetical situation. We saw the importance of it quite recently in the course of covid, when the Government did indeed have to provide a loan to the counterparty for the contract for difference regime: to the Low Carbon Contracts Company.

The taxpayer should be able to be repaid that loan, but the amendment provides that sums cannot be paid into the Consolidated Fund where there is an alternative. I could see a number of people making an argument that different things that could be done with that money would provide alternatives to what is being envisaged: in this case, repaying the taxpayer. If passed, the amendment would unnecessarily narrow the scope of the power in a way that would limit its use. I hope that my explanation has shown Members the importance of the power, which is in my view unlikely to be used. However, I have given a real example from the last couple of years of where exactly such a situation arose.

The Minister has given the example of an emergency loan, but surely the regulation is all about

“apportioning sums…received by a revenue collection counterparty from electricity suppliers under provision made by virtue of section 19”.

Clause 19 is about collecting money from electricity suppliers; ergo, the example of a loan does not equate to what this is about.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. My understanding is that the loan would not be repayable if an alternative were there. The ambiguity of an alternative would unnecessarily narrow the scope of the power, though I appreciate where he is coming from.

I ask the Minister to read clause 21(1)(a), which contains the reference I quoted to clause 19, which I do not think covers the emergency loan situation.

We will just have to agree to disagree. I think the amendment unnecessarily narrows the scope of the power in a way that we would not wish to see in terms of protection of the taxpayer. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Southampton, Test to withdraw it.

I thought that this was the most reasonable amendment by far that we have tabled. I am sorry that the Minister has responded in the way that he has. He made the point that some money that had come from the taxpayer might be sitting in the funds of the revenue collection counterparty, and should therefore be paid out of it. That would actually be covered by the amendment, which would insert:

“not to be paid into the Consolidated Fund unless there is no other alternative.”

If someone were trying to pay back a loan that they effectively got from the Consolidated Fund in the first place, there is no alternative other than to pay it back to the Consolidated Fund, so the amendment would cover that. We want circumstances in which the Treasury—I am sure that the Minister does not particularly want to be a high-ranking Treasury Minister in the future—

Again—indeed. I think the Minister will know from his previous experience that the Treasury is not above, shall we say, treating all Government money as essentially its own. In circumstances in which the Treasury thinks that it can get hold of certain amounts of money, it may well do so. Obviously, the purpose of Bills is not to be written to keep the Treasury’s hands off money that it really should not have, but it might not be such a bad idea at least to put that in regulation so that it would be fairly hard for that to happen. As the amendment is drafted, however, it is not a prohibition; it just says that there needs to be a pretty good argument—the argument made by the Minister about the loan, for example—for that money to be paid into the Consolidated Fund. That, really, is all the amendment says, and I think that is a wholly better construction than what is in the Bill.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 22

Enforcement

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Labour party accepts that the clauses cover important technical matters relating to how the rest of this part of the Bill holds together, and we therefore have no objection to their being taken together.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 23 to 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Craig Whittaker.)

Adjourned till Thursday 25 November at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Judicial Review and Courts Bill (Eleventh sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Sir Mark Hendrick, † Andrew Rosindell

† Barker, Paula (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)

† Cartlidge, James (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)

† Crawley, Angela (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP)

Cunningham, Alex (Stockton North) (Lab)

† Daby, Janet (Lewisham East) (Lab)

† Fletcher, Nick (Don Valley) (Con)

† Hayes, Sir John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)

† Higginbotham, Antony (Burnley) (Con)

† Hunt, Tom (Ipswich) (Con)

† Johnson, Dr Caroline (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

† Longhi, Marco (Dudley North) (Con)

† McLaughlin, Anne (Glasgow North East) (SNP)

† Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Marson, Julie (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)

† Moore, Damien (Southport) (Con)

† Slaughter, Andy (Hammersmith) (Lab)

† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)

Huw Yardley, Seb Newman, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 23 November 2021

[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Clause 47

Commencement and transitional provision

We resume with clause 47 and amendment 30. I would like to be able to call Anne McLaughlin, but she is not here.

On a point of order, Mr Rosindell. On behalf of all colleagues, may I say how grateful we are that you allowed us to attend the funeral this morning, instead of sitting in Committee? I thought it was a profoundly moving occasion, and your words were very moving in particular. It showed Parliament at its best.

I just said to the Doorkeepers that I thought the moment when they walked behind the coffin was one of the most moving I have seen as an MP. I thought it appropriate to put on record my thanks for the adjournment this morning, and that we all dearly miss our great friend. It was a very fitting and beautiful service.

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. I do not want to prolong our proceedings unduly, but I think it is important to amplify the Minister’s remarks. Without wishing to embarrass you, you were a very close friend of Sir David. We were all his friends, but you were particularly close to him. We are grateful for your being here this afternoon, and I think we would all agree that it was a fitting final farewell to a much-valued parliamentarian, a dear friend and, most importantly, a husband and father.

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. I echo the previous comments. As a member of the new intake, I had the good fortune of having an office on the same floor as Sir David Amess in 1 Parliament Street. As the lift doors open, his office door is immediately in front. It has been a terrible sadness, as you can well imagine, every time I have seen that door with a candle lit in front of it in recent days and weeks.

As a colleague and a fellow Catholic, I felt today’s mass and funeral celebrations were a very fitting goodbye to someone I did not really get to know that well but someone who, as an elder statesman who had been round the block a few times, if I can put it that way, made me feel very welcome. He made a point of coming to say, “Hello. Who are you? Where are you from?” in his indescribable, unique way.

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. Extending on that theme, I was also very honoured to be at Westminster Cathedral this morning. I know how close you were to the late Sir David, and I am lucky to class you as a close friend of mine.

Sir David was somebody who was very visible in the Chamber. I remember in my first few weeks after being elected that I wanted to figure out how to do the job effectively, and I went around to canvass some names of people I should talk to about how to do the job effectively as a constituency MP. Sir David’s name came up almost as many times, and perhaps more times, than yours, Mr Rosindell. He was incredibly characterful, and I will always remember the summer and Christmas Adjournment debates when he would fire off 30 or 40 points within two or three minutes, when I would have mentioned barely one or two. It is with some sadness, though, that I say that he was somebody whom I always assumed I would meet and get to know very well, but that I was not given that opportunity. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North, who is a fellow Catholic, I was very moved by the incredibly powerful mass. I was lucky enough to take communion today—I have had my first holy communion and Father Pat has been trying to get me to have a confirmation: he is keeping his eye on me. It was incredibly moving today, and it might have done the job. I think that I will do that.

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. May I associate the Labour party with the remarks of the Minister and Conservative Members about Sir David? I commiserate with the Members of the 2019 intake—because of covid, they probably did not get a chance to know him. But they would have got to know him pretty quickly, with us all being back here. As somebody from a very different political tradition, I worked very closely with him for the last five years through his chairmanship of all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group, which was astonishing. We all know that all-party parliamentary groups have a multitude of successes and failures. That was an astonishingly powerful and well-organised body, particularly in the wake of Grenfell. It really was a pleasure not only to know him but to see how effective he was as an operator in Parliament. We will all miss him. I know that you will particularly, Mr Rosindell, as a friend. We will all miss him as a friend, a colleague and a wonderful parliamentarian.

Thank you all very much for those words. I hope that we might send a copy of the report of these remarks to Lady Amess and the family, so that they are aware of some of the kind words that have been spoken this afternoon about Sir David, who, as many have commented, was a very dear friend to me and to many in this room. I am only sorry that some were not able to get to know him as well as I knew him, because he was somebody very special—a fantastic Member of Parliament, a fine constituency MP and a very dear friend to so many. I thank you all for your very kind words this afternoon.

Fortunately, Anne McLaughlin is now with us, so we can move to clause 47 and amendment 30.

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 47, page 54, line 34,  at end insert—

“(7) Notwithstanding the provisions above, this Act shall not come into force until the Lord Chancellor has laid before Parliament a written statement confirming that no provision in this Act contravenes Article 6 or Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

(8) The statement under subsection (7) must be laid before Parliament within three months of this Act being passed.”

This amendment would prevent any Act resulting from this Bill from coming into force until the Lord Chancellor confirms, via a written statement to Parliament, that none of its provisions contravene ECHR Article 6 (right to fair trial) or ECHR Article 13 (right to effective remedy).

I thank everybody on the Committee for their forbearance during the last week, while I was struggling to move, and today, when I underestimated how long a usually seven-minute walk to get here would take me. Thankfully, I have an X-ray on Thursday, and I hope that something will come of that.

May I also associate myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East with the remarks on Sir David Amess? I did not know him; I knew exactly who he was, though. There was that smile that made him stand out—a really genuine smile that reached his eyes. I always noticed that. I did not know him personally, but listening to people speak about him, including many people in the SNP group, who knew him really well and are really hurting, makes me wish that I had. Maybe that can teach us something in this place: that there are people who we can identify with and befriend who have different views from our own. Thank you for allowing me to say that.

I sure that Conservative Members and Opposition Members will agree with the fundamental principles that we should all be afforded the right to a fair trial and effective remedy. There can be little dispute that those are the cornerstones of a justice system that respects the rule of law and principles of natural justice. Amendment 30 seeks confirmation from the Lord Chancellor that any provision in the Bill will be prevented from coming into force if it contravenes article 6 or article 13 of the European convention on human rights: the right to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy.

We have already debated how provisions in the Bill, such as the presumption for using prospective-only quashing orders, could risk breaching article 6.1 of the European convention on human rights on the right to a fair trial, which requires an effective judicial remedy. The amendment would ensure the Government had the opportunity to make cast-iron guarantees that that will not happen. That would be expressed via a written statement from the Lord Chancellor, laid before Parliament within three months of the Bill being passed.

The Minister may wish to point out that article 13 does not apply to the Human Rights Act 1998, but it could be applicable in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and that is why we felt it appropriate to include it in the amendment. Strasbourg does not recognise the practice of failing to give human rights without an effective remedy. Rather than stripping away rights, the Government should consider in any proposed review of the Human Rights Act that the right to effective remedy be added. As the Minister has assured us that the Bill will furnish the courts with a broader set of tools, with no risk of restricting individual claimants’ rights, he will surely consider the amendment a gift from me to him to help clarify his position.

Thank you for your generosity in allowing us to pay our tribute, Mr Rosindell, following this morning’s very moving mass at Westminster Cathedral.

The amendment would prevent any measure in the Bill from coming into force until the Lord Chancellor has provided a written statement to say that no provision in the subsequent Act contravenes article 6 on the right to a fair hearing and article 13 on the right to effective remedy of the European convention on human rights. I assure hon. Members that none of the measures in the Bill contravenes either article 6 or article 13.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North East mentioned remedies. We have the new remedies relating to quashing orders, which are a key part of how the Bill improves judicial review. In clause 1, there are adequate safeguards to ensure that any individual exercise of the new remedial discretions provides an effective remedy in cases concerning violations of convention rights. That is because the measures do not limit the availability of any existing right for such a breach and their use remains open to the court’s discretion. Presumption in favour of any of the remedial discretions only operates in circumstances where its exercise would

“offer adequate redress in relation to the relevant defect”

and it may be rebutted where there is good reason to do so. Further, the court is required to consider the interests or expectations of persons who would benefit from quashing of the impugned Act, as well as considering other factors.

On clause 2, regarding Cart judicial review, our position is that article 6 does not require a further right of judicial review in relation to decisions concerning permission to appeal from the first-tier tribunal to the upper tribunal and therefore considers that the measure does not interfere with an individual’s right under article 6.

When the Bill was introduced, the Lord Chancellor at the time signed a statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 to confirm his view that the provisions in the Bill are compatible with the convention rights. When the Bill passes to the other place, a second statement will be made, as required under section 19, taking into account any amendments. Should any Government or non-Government amendments be made that we felt contravened those statements, we would inform Parliament. It would be a breach of the ministerial code to proceed towards Royal Assent without either amending the provisions or informing Parliament of the issue.

In addition, ahead of introducing the Bill, the Government carried out a full ECHR analysis and published a memo for the Joint Committee on Human Rights setting out that analysis on parliament.uk. The previous Lord Chancellor wrote to the Committee’s Chair when the Bill was introduced and we will engage with the Committee fully should it choose to publish a report on the Bill. In summary, the Bill currently does not contravene either article 6 or article 13, and appropriate measures are in place should that no longer be the case at any point during its passage. I therefore urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

In the light of what the Minister has said about the potential breach of the ministerial code, and knowing how seriously almost everyone takes that, I hope that what he tells me is correct. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 31, in clause 47, page 54, line 34, at end insert—

“(7) Notwithstanding the provisions above, nothing in this Act relating to Scotland shall come into force without a consenting resolution being passed by the Scottish Parliament.”

This amendment would require the consent of the Scottish Parliament to be given to any provisions in the Bill that relate to Scotland for those provisions to come into force.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, under the Sewel convention the Scottish Parliament should have the final say over any attempt by the UK Parliament to legislate in devolved areas. In recognition of the separate and distinct nature of Scotland’s legal system, article 19 of the Treaty of Union protects the authority and privileges of Scotland’s Court of Session. This is a fundamental part of the UK constitution and this amendment would ensure that the UK Government respect the principles of the Sewel convention and the constitutional arrangements.

Without an amendment specifically guaranteeing the requirement of consent from the Scottish Parliament to any provisions in the Bill that relate to Scotland, we risk interference with Scottish legal processes. The Faculty of Advocates, which was represented at the evidence sessions of this Committee, has said that in Scotland

“judicial review does not suffer from a lack of clarity, and any attempt to codify it is likely to undermine the very flexibility that renders it effective.”

Furthermore, Liberty has also commented on the situation and has said that

“the Act of Union does not serve to enable the UK Government to reshape the jurisdiction of the Court of Session. These are not technical or procedural points. In any event, the administration of the courts and the justice system in Scotland clearly falls within devolved competence.”

I am certain the Minister and Members opposite will be aware that this amendment is not only a reminder that this convention exists, but that it too must be respected in statute.

The amendment would require the consent of the Scottish Parliament to be given to any provisions in the Bill that relate to Scotland. I am emboldened to say that the word “relate” is in bold in my text, as that word is very important. I have a number of constitutional concerns about the amendment.

To reassure the hon. Members for Glasgow North East and for Lanark and Hamilton East, the measures in this Bill relate wholly to reserved matters. Ministers and officials have been engaging with the devolved Administrations over the course of the Bill, and we will continue to do so when the provisions in the Bill come into force.

I believe we are in agreement that chapter 2, “Online procedure,” and chapter 3, “Employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal,” of the Bill relate to matters outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament. Yet this amendment would still apply to the clauses in those chapters and require the consent of the Scottish Parliament before they could come into force.

The majority of the criminal procedure measures also relate only to England and Wales, although, as I have previously noted in Committee, we are aware that the Scottish Government’s position may be that the new automatic online procedure, introduced by clause 3, engages the legislative consent process. Furthermore, we believe that this is outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament, which, in the Government’s view, does not engage the legislative consent process.

With regard to removing Cart JR, I should make clear that the unified tribunal system is a reserved matter, where it relates to matters of reserved policy. Our measures on Cart will apply to the whole of the UK, but only in respect to the matters heard in that tribunal system that fall outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament. The provisions relating to remedies apply to England and Wales only.

If it came into force, the amendment would actually lead to decisions in reserved areas operating differently across the UK, thereby reducing the clarity the Bill currently provides. In line with the memorandum of understanding on devolution, we will continue to engage with the devolved Administration at a ministerial and official level to ensure that we have time to fully understand any implications for the Scottish court system.

On that basis, I cannot accept this amendment and I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw it.

I am not sure what I am supposed to say, but I do not wish to withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Question negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

This is one of those long ones, Mr Rosindell. This clause sets out when the measures will come into force. While some measures will come into force two months from when the Act is passed, including the coroner’s provisions and two of the criminal provisions, in clauses 14 and 15 and schedule 1, the remainder of the Bill will come into force by regulation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 47 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 48

Short title

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

I just need to check I have enough water for this one. The clause is the short title of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 48 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

We now come to new clauses. I understand that the Opposition do not intend to press new clauses 1 and 2, which have already been debated, to a Division, so we will begin with new clause 3.

New Clause 3

Exclusion of review of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal

(1) Section 67 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) Leave out subsection (8) and insert—

“(8) Subject to section 67A and subsections (9) and (10), determinations, awards, orders and other decisions of the Tribunal (including decisions as to whether the Tribunal has jurisdiction and purported determinations, awards, orders and other decisions) shall be final and shall not be subject to appeal or be liable to be questioned in any court.

(9) In particular—

(a) the Tribunal is not to be regarded as having exceeded its powers by reason of any error of fact or law made in reaching any decision; and

(b) the supervisory jurisdiction of the courts does not extend to, and no application or petition for judicial review may be made or brought in relation to, any decision of the Tribunal.

(10) Subsections (8) and (9) do not apply so far as the decision involves or gives rise to any question as to whether the Tribunal—

(a) has a valid case before it;

(b) is or was properly constituted for the purpose of dealing with the case; and

(c) is acting or has acted in bad faith, with actual bias or corruption or in some other way that constitutes a fundamental procedural defect.

(11) No error of fact or law made by the Tribunal in reaching any decision is to be construed as relevant to the question.”

(3) The amendment made by subsection (2) applies to determinations, awards, orders and other decisions of the Tribunal (including purported determinations, awards, orders and other decisions) made before the day on which this section comes into force.”—(Sir John Hayes.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move that the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause addresses the issue of the courts’ role in curtailing the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and more especially circumventing the role of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. It would restore Parliament’s choice in enacting section 67 of the Act so that the decisions of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal would not be subject to judicial review.

As Security Minister at the Home Office, I addressed these matters in an important piece of legislation that established the principle of a double lock in respect of the warranting of powers in the case of both suspected terrorists and serious and organised criminals. That is to say that tech companies are obliged to maintain a record of electronic communications that can be interrogated on application to the Home Secretary for a warrant. I introduced the double lock, so that as well as satisfying the Home Secretary of the validity of the case made by the police or the security services, a warrant must also pass the same test when put before a member of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal or a judge. That was a safeguard to ensure that those powers are used only when necessary and proportionate. It is that test of necessity and proportionality that lies at the heart of the exercise of powers in respect of security and related matters.

The problem—it is a challenge that we have considered on previous occasions in the scrutiny of the Bill: indeed, it has punctuated our consideration—is that the courts have taken it upon themselves to become involved in matters that should be the exclusive preserve of this House. It is very important to see the Bill in that context. The supremacy of Parliament is fundamental to protecting the interests of the people, and Parliament’s particular role in our constitutional settlement is not a matter—as was suggested by one of those who gave evidence to us—of mutuality.

Anybody who understands constitutional theory and practice will know of the work of A. V. Dicey. It is clear that parliamentary sovereignty, as Dicey argued, confers on Parliament a dominant characteristic. Parliament consists of Her Majesty the Queen, the House of Lords and the House of Commons acting together, and therefore:

“The principle of Parliamentary sovereignty means neither more nor less than this”.

In Dicey’s words, Parliament has

“the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further, that no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having the right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament.”

Those are the words of A. V. Dicey in affirming the principle of sovereignty. He goes on to say that parliamentary sovereignty must be thus described:

“Any Act of Parliament, or any part of an Act of Parliament, which makes a new law, or repeals or modifies existing law, will be obeyed by the courts…Some apparent exceptions to this rule no doubt suggest themselves. But these apparent exceptions, as where, for example, the Judges of the High Court of Justice make rules of court repealing Parliamentary enactments, are resolvable into cases in which Parliament either directly or indirectly sanctions subordinate legislation.”

Legally, sovereign power is assuredly maintained by Parliament. It is quite wrong for the courts to be used as a way to perpetuate debate. We heard that from the Minister in particular respect of the way that judicial review has metamorphosised over time to perpetuate debate in particular cases that have been settled previously. The Minister described it as having several bites of the cherry. That is not the role of judicial process, and the Bill goes a considerable way to addressing that, but it does not go far enough.

The purpose of the new clause is to probe and press the Minister—I will not put it more strongly than that—to go further in affirming the sovereign role of Parliament described by A. V. Dicey. The power of Parliament has been drawn into question, particularly in respect of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, as I said. The Supreme Court, in a perverse judgment, effectively set aside Parliament’s lawmaking choice in May 2019 in the landmark judgment of Privacy International v. Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Hon. Members will remember that the case was raised in the first oral evidence session by Professor Ekins, and addressed by him in his paper for Policy Exchange. I once again thank Policy Exchange for publishing that paper, which has added to our understanding of and insight into these matters.

In essence, the new clause, tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich, and supported by other Committee members—I say that with some timidity and hesitation, because I cannot presuppose that support until I have persuaded them by the power of my oratory; none the less, I am confident that it has some sympathy of other Committee members—is an opportunity for the Government to do what the Attorney General recommended in her recent speech in Cambridge, in which she identified the problem I describe of the courts taking a more incursive role into the business of high politics than is their proper place to do. The new clause, in respect of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, attempts to do just that.

The new clause would reverse the Supreme Court’s judgment and reinstate the law that Parliament clearly made. Before the Privacy International case, the courts had taken section 67 of the 2000 Act to be a clear, unambiguous ouster clause that excludes the jurisdiction of the courts in relation to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. For 19 years, there has been no possibility of judicial review. In recent court judgments, including others such as the Adams case and the Miller case, we have seen the creeping role of the courts into those areas, with judicial review being used as the mechanism to allow that mission creep. It is important that the Government recognise that—from what the Minister has said, I think they do—and take effective action to address it.

I suppose what I am saying is that the Bill could have been a bigger piece of legislation. As you will know from your long experience in the House, Mr Rosindell, new clauses are sometimes a way of encouraging the Government during the further consideration of a Bill to listen to the arguments that have been made during scrutiny and to allow it to do more than was originally intended. The alternative would be to bring in another Bill, but it is always difficult to secure time in the legislative programme. The likelihood of another Bill in the same subject area is small, so this may be our chance. It is a rare and special chance for the Minister to become something of a star, if I might put it that way, in the battle to affirm the constitutional place and historic role of Parliament in relation to the courts.

The then Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), made a powerful critique of the Privacy International judgment and of the 2015 Evans judgment, which concerned the disclosure of the Prince of Wales’s letters, which was a similar case of the courts taking unusual—I would say exceptional—power with an undesirable outcome. In the Evans case, a Supreme Court majority effectively overturned part of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The constitutional problems with the Supreme Court’s reasoning in that case are set out in a previous Policy Exchange paper written by Professor Ekins and Professor Forsyth of the University of Cambridge. Their argument was strongly endorsed by Lord Hoffmann and Lord Brown, two of the country’s most senior judges, and by Lord Faulkes, who chaired the independent review of administrative law last year.

Speaking about that case, the then Lord Chancellor said:

“when enacting the provisions at issue in Privacy International and Evans Parliament did not believe that it was infringing the rule of law (and indeed the judges in the minority in both cases agreed). It was also perfectly clear, as the minority recognised, what Parliament actually intended. Provided Parliament’s assessment was not wholly unreasonable, it does not appear to me to be right to frustrate that intention”.

That is a powerful critique. Even if Parliament had been wrong to enact section 67(8) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, it was a decision for Parliament to make.

A fundamental issue is at stake here. We are answerable to the people and our legitimacy is derived from the people. Although it is important that an independent judiciary plays its part in our constitutional settlement, it is not a matter of reciprocity or mutuality; it is not about alternative sources of power. This place is the source of legitimate democratic power because we, as I say, draw that authority from the people. We speak for the people and are answerable to the people. That is the point. It is not right for that mission creep to allow others to exercise power, who are not directly accountable in the way that I have described.

The new clause focuses on the important Privacy International case, but it also speaks to those other wider and deeper matters. By accepting the new clause, as I am confident the Minister will with good grace and alacrity when he rises to speak, the Government will be doing a great service not only in their own interests, because the new clause is entirely in keeping with the essence of the legislation’s intention, but in recognising that the Bill provides a special, unusual, perhaps even a unique opportunity to right these wrongs.

Without wishing to delay the Committee further, I say to my colleagues on the Conservative Benches and, by the way, to those across the House, that the Bill has been debated in good spirit, and with appropriate care. I paid tribute in an earlier session to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, but I do not want to do so again, else we will start getting the reputation of being too friendly with each other. I do not want to give the impression that I am in the thrall of the hon. Gentleman. The Bill has been debated in the right spirit and in a sensible and positive way. To Opposition Members, I say that it is important for all Members of the House to recognise the authority of this place, as I have described, for that is our mission and purpose. I am disturbed by the increasing judicial activism that has led through series of cases—I could talk about the Miller case, and I referred briefly to the Adams case—which is changing the balance of our constitution from this place to elsewhere.

In summary, I was proud to take security legislation through the House that gave the Security Service and the police the powers that they need to protect us from those who seek to do us harm. We have put into place safeguards and protections in earlier security legislation and in the legislation that I took through myself. We are clear that there have to be those safeguards, and of course it is right that all the agencies on which we confer extensive powers are themselves accountable. But it is not right for the courts to frustrate the will of this House.

To that end, I am pleased and proud to propose the new clause in my name. Of course, needless to say, at this stage I will not say that I am going to push it to a vote; that would be quite wrong, because it would suggest that the Minister could just say anything. I do not want to let the Minister off the hook. He knows that I am a supportive and friendly member of the Committee; but none the less, I am expecting him to at very least say that he is minded to consider these matters, or the full power of the Back-Bench Members of the Committee could be felt and heard, to the distress of my great friend who sits on the Front Bench next to the Minister, namely my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall. As I said to him last week, were that to happen, he would have a grey mark against him, next to my black one.

I say to the Minister, persuade me otherwise, or agree at least to consider the matters addressed by the new clause because it is very much inspired by the message that he has broadcast to the Committee: the Government want to get things right in respect of the power of courts alongside the power of Parliament.

The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings takes us back into the important constitutional territory with which he started his consideration of the Bill. He also, knowingly or not, revealed something about his taste in curry. For those who are looking slightly amiss about that, I refer to the opening paragraph of the article concerning the Bill that appeared in The Mail on Sunday, which said:

“The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, regards himself as a spicy ‘Vindaloo’ politician compared to the bland ‘korma’ represented by his predecessor, Robert Buckland, sources in his new ministry have told the Mail on Sunday.

The bizarre comparison was made in the context of the Judicial Review Bill, inherited by Mr Raab from Mr Buckland, which aims to clip the wings of the Judiciary over the extent to which they can rule on political decisions, such as Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament during Brexit negotiations in 2019.”

I will not go on, partly because the article contains some unparliamentary language, and in fairness to the Justice Secretary it ends with the immortal line:

“A source close to Mr Raab denied that he had ever compared himself to a vindaloo curry.”

The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings puts himself more in the vindaloo than the korma camp with his comments, but I note that the new clauses that he has tabled are a subset of those in the Policy Exchange document, to which he referred, by Professor Ekins, who was one of the witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee. That document was a very powerful concoction indeed, because it contained 20 suggested new clauses or amendments, which were whittled down to seven on the amendment paper. After excluding those that were not in scope, we are down to two.

None the less, the import of what the right hon. Gentleman intends is still there, so I will respond to new clause 3 and, in due course, to new clause 5, and say to the Minister that it would be wrong to accept the new clauses, partly because of what they say and partly because of the way they are being introduced at this stage; they should really have come through the usual processes. That is to say nothing about the right of the right hon. Gentleman to table them now to raise the issue. Nevertheless, the provisions are being put to the Committee at a very late stage. The way in which they were tabled leaves no time for substantial parliamentary engagement or the required serious consideration of their merits.

Of course, Parliament is supreme, and there may be a case for looking at the propriety of certain Supreme Court decisions or changing the way that judicial review works, but this is not the proper way to enact measures of such constitutional significance. The bottom line is that if Parliament wishes to modify or overturn legal decisions as significant as those highlighted here, it should do so through a proper and full debate, with a full consultation beforehand, so that it can benefit from a wide range of expert views. Parliamentarians should be empowered to make proper, informed decisions. These rushed provisions undermine the parliamentary process and threaten ill-considered constitutional reforms, with unknown consequences.

On the timing, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. He will know how the House works; he has been in it a long time. Clearly there will be opportunities for further consideration of the matters that I have raised, both on Report and during the Bill’s passage in the other place, so we are at the beginning of a very long journey.

As I said, I have not decided whether to press the new clauses to a vote, but I am putting down a marker. The hon. Gentleman will have seen that happen many times; indeed, he has done the same during scrutiny of the Bill, and I hope that some of his arguments will be heard. On the character of the marker, the new clause respects new clause 2 in terms of exceptional cases where the tribunal has acted in a perverse way, so it allows legal consideration of any exceptional, ambiguous or improper decision by the tribunal.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who made several points there. I am coming on to deal with each of them. I suspect that his new clauses and comments are directed as much—if not more—to his own Front Benchers as to me in putting that marker down, but the Government must have taken some care with the long title of the Bill, which is tightly drawn.

Obviously, I do not question the wisdom of the Clerks, but the two new clauses we are debating this afternoon have squeaked through because the long title clearly identifies what is in clauses 1 and 2. With all respect to the other place, and there are more stages still to go, it is not just the deliberation in both Houses that is important when discussing constitutional matters.

We heard from some, but only some, of the experts in the field. I concede there was a significant consultation process; perhaps the Government did not get the responses they wanted the first time, so they went back and had another go. Nevertheless, they have had at least two bites of the cherry in the consultation.

That is enough, apparently—according to the Minister.

Having gone through that process, the Government decided to push forward with focused reforms to Cart judicial reviews to modify the nature of discretionary remedies only. This new clause, and indeed new clause 5 and the other new clauses that were not selected, would go much further. If these proposals were being taken seriously, they would be headline provisions in the Bill, not underdeveloped addendum clauses introduced without proper consideration and in their current form. It is inappropriate to being these measures into force as proposed.

The new clauses are not supported by, and in some cases go directly against, expert analysis or wider consultation. The measures being taken forward by the Government in this Bill were preceded by extensive consultation and engagement with experts and stakeholders. That includes the work of the independent review of administrative law and contributions from across the sector, including the judiciary.

The same cannot be said of these new clauses. In fact, the majority of experts and the Government themselves rejected some of the very measures they propose. For example, the changes to the disclosure duty in new clause 5 were considered but ultimately rejected by the independent review of administrative law. The Government agreed at the time that the reforms were unnecessary.

The new clauses try to address significant, complex areas of law in an overly simplistic way, and many of the apparent problems these new clauses seek to resolve are more complicated than the proposals seem to believe or understand. The rules on evidence disclosure, for example, have developed so that disclosure is tailored in each case to ensure that justice is done, whereas the new clauses take a blunt hammer to this sophisticated scheme. Unfairness is therefore inevitable.

The solutions are blunt and may lead to unintended consequences. Although several of the new clauses have been found to be out of scope, they amount to an attack on our constitutional balance. The result would be a great reduction in judicial protection, the disempowerment of aggrieved citizens and a Government who are unacceptably insulated from scrutiny.

The hon. Gentleman is talking about constitutional balance, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings. The important question is: who is ultimately in charge of making the laws of the country? Parliament has the right, given by the electorate, to decide the law. The principle of the judgment said that should be limited by the judiciary in some cases, which throws up an important constitutional question that we need to look at.

Absolutely. Parliament is supreme and can will what it likes. That is very clear. Where the balance lies is what is in dispute here. The question is the appropriate role of the judiciary, which is exactly how the doctrine of judicial review has developed.

With respect, that point is not in debate. What Lord Carnwath said is:

“In all cases, regardless of the words used, it should remain ultimately a matter for the court to determine the extent to which such a clause should be upheld, having regard to its purpose and statutory context, and the nature and importance of the legal issue in question; and to determine the level of scrutiny required by the rule of law.”

What I understand is being said—the hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong—is that in some cases the legislature does not have the right to pass particular laws.

No, and even the vindaloo version—the full Ekins version—does not attack the doctrine of judicial review. It is saying that the courts sometimes resolve matters procedurally and sometimes, in relation to specific judgments, the court has got it wrong and it is Parliament’s job to overrule, which Parliament is entitled to do. At the end of this legislative process, Parliament will have made those decisions. What we are debating now is what is or is not appropriate. Specifically, we are debating two discrete issues. The first is the decision in the Privacy International case against the Investigatory Powers Tribunal and whether an ouster should be imposed, and the second is about rather more widespread issues to do with disclosure and witness evidence. I am perfectly open to arguing those issues, but the point is that we happen to disagree: these measures are wrong, and that is what we are going to debate this afternoon.

Let me talk more specifically about new clause 3. The new clause would effectively overturn the decision in the Privacy International case by excluding judicial review of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal subject to a number of limited exceptions that broadly, although not exactly, mirror those in clause 2. That means that judicial review would be excluded except where the High Court must consider whether the tribunal had a valid case before it; was properly constituted to hear the case; or acted in bad faith, with actual bias, corruption or some other fundamental procedural defect.

As I have said, this would insert a second ouster clause in the Bill and would be a concerning addition to the restriction of Cart judicial reviews. The new clause includes similar exceptions—bad faith, fundamental procedural defect and so forth—to the ouster in Cart, but crucially they are even narrower than those in clause 2, in that the exception of where the court has acted

“in fundamental breach of the principles of natural justice”

has been removed. The more restrictive exception of where the court acts in a way

“that constitutes a fundamental procedural defect”

has been added. The trend suggested is extremely concerning and risks having a serious impact on the ability of individuals to retain redress, not to be subject to unlawful exercise of power, and to hold the Executive to account.

The first thing to note is that there is immediate uncertainty around those exceptions and how they might operate. There is already a problem with the Cart ouster in the main section of the Bill, and I have spoken at length about that in previous sittings. That uncertainty would only be multiplied by this new clause.

Judicial review is an essential constitutional remedy, and attempts to introduce and proliferate ouster clauses, as this new clause seeks to do, risk undermining the UK’s constitutional framework and the protection against abuses of Executive power. Judicial review is generally available only where there is no other recourse to an alternative remedy. The effect of ouster clauses is therefore often to shut down all routes to challenge a decision, even if the decision has been based on a misinterpretation of the law.

Furthermore, judicial review is an integral part of the UK constitution based on parliamentary sovereignty, ensuring that there is a means to address injustices and abuses of power. It exists separately and in addition to the Executive’s political accountability to Parliament. Ouster clauses risk undermining the effectiveness of judicial review as a means of legal scrutiny of the Executive. No matter how unpopular the cause or the claimant, the rule of law still applies and the Executive should not be able to go beyond their legal limits without the potential for accountability in the courts. In fact, it is precisely for such claimants that judicial review is so crucial.

I rise to correct the hon. Gentleman but not in an antagonistic way. He will understand that this new clause—and, indeed, the Bill—do not supersede section 67A of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which does indeed say that the tribunal can be challenged on a point of law. Contrary to his argument, there remains in existing legislation an additional safeguard if the tribunal acts in a way that is contrary to proper legal practice, and a point of law is the ground for an appeal.

I am grateful for that intervention. I will come in a few moments to the powers of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, so let us see whether that satisfies the right hon. Gentleman.

In relation to the ouster in clause 2, I spoke about judicial review’s role in ensuring good and lawful administration, but as that issue has arisen again I wish to emphasise the point in this new context. Judicial review is an incentive to maintain high standards in public administration by public bodies, because the possibility of judicial review motivates decision makers to ensure that their decisions are lawful. Ouster clauses such as this one remove such motivation and, coupled with the removal of the means through with such decisions could be challenged, risk a decrease in the quality of Executive decision making.

Decisions and guidance from the courts can also help to improve policy development and decision making in Government. Judicial review provides the opportunity to bring to light legitimate concerns about a public body’s processes and decision making, and decision making in Government. Indeed, judicial review provides the opportunity to bring to light legitimate concerns about a public body’s processes and decision making and then also gives guidance on improving the processes in the future and encouraging good governance.

The same applies to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. The decisions of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal relate to potentially very significant Executive powers in the area of surveillance and privacy rights. In this context especially, the risk of a breach of the fundamental rights of individuals is high. It is therefore crucial that Parliament has sufficient time to carefully consider the consequences of restricting judicial review in this context, and this last-minute amendment does not afford that.

Fundamentally—regardless of what anyone thinks about the merits of the Privacy International case—this is not the way to go about amending it, or even thinking about amending it. Parliamentarians will be asked to vote on what is in effect a very significant legal change, without any real appreciation of the possible effects and consequences and, as above, without the benefit of expert input through consultation and parliamentary examination. A provision such as this should be the headline measure in any Bill; it should be considered and debated seriously and properly; and anyone voting on it should have a full understanding of the issues. It should not be introduced as a last-minute addendum to an otherwise unrelated set of measures concerning judicial review remedies. This new clause as drafted will generate serious uncertainty.

There is also a substantive argument here. In the Privacy International case, the Supreme Court essentially held that it is very difficult for the Government to completely close off judicial review—in this case, concerning decisions of the IPT. The Government should be very careful about reversing that decision: the immediate consequence would be to close off judicial review. If it is thought that the Privacy International decision should be revisited in the future, it should be ensured that parliamentarians are fully aware of any consequences of doing that, and perhaps some middle-ground solution that preserves access to justice could be tried.

The amendment takes a sledgehammer to what should be a carefully crafted and sensitively considered issue. That, in my submission, is not the appropriate way to do good law making.

I will keep my remarks fairly brief; I see myself very much as a secondary signatory to these amendments from my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings: my much wiser, senior colleague. However, at one point last week I did think that I would be spearheading these particular amendments myself. Fate has meant that I have assumed a less significant role today.

Most of the comments that I would like to make are in relation to new clause 5, so I will hold off from making those comments now. All I will say is this. I take the point that new clause 3 is significant and Parliament needs more time to look at it. That was not the case when the change occurred after the Privacy International case. Actually, something very significant happened there. There was a major change in relation to the powers tribunal, its role and the role of judicial review in reviewing its decisions, and Parliament had no say at all in supervising that or debating it. I would be grateful if the hon. Member for Hammersmith let me know whether he agrees with my view on that. If he is concerned that Parliament might not have more time to debate the significant change suggested now, surely he would consider it inappropriate for Parliament not to have had a role back when the role of judicial review in relation to that tribunal changed so significantly.

I think that there are two debates here. If we are asking our intelligence services to carry out incredibly unique and peculiar work and we have to have a tribunal that is very specialist in reviewing and taking into account work that they do, there is one debate there, but there is a second debate. Even if someone does not agree with that and they think that there should be a right of review, surely it is only right and proper that Parliament should be in a place to debate and decide on that. It should not just happen; the court should not just decide for itself that this is the right thing to do.

As I said, I am keeping my comments brief. I will return on new clause 5, on which I have more points to make.

I will be brief. Basically, I agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith and share the concerns about this being the second ouster clause in the Bill. I feel it is a bit early to use the legal framework to oust Cart already.

I hope the Government will wait for the Bill to be enacted before trying that. I agree that the new clause is not the way to go about amending this. Such a provision should be a headline measure in a Bill; I think the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings—that is a lovely constituency name—said himself that this would ordinarily be in a new Bill. I understand the argument that there is not an awful lot of time for new legislation, but I think this measure needs to be debated seriously and properly. Parliament needs a full understanding of the issues, following a full consultation.

I would argue an awful lot harder and longer than that, first, if I thought the Government were about to support the new clause, and secondly, if I thought anybody would listen. [Interruption.] I do not mean if they would listen to me; I mean if I thought we would ever win a vote in this place. The Government should be very careful in reversing that decision and should think about the consequences of it. I agree with everything that the hon. Member for Hammersmith has said.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for being so kind to me and my constituency, and my constituents by extension. It is clear that the Attorney General supports the new clause because she drew particular attention to the character of the Privacy International case in her recent speech on these matters. Inasmuch as she is the most senior Law Officer of the Government, whatever the Minister might say today—I appreciate that he may want to hold fire, to some degree—it is clear that the Attorney General understands and supports my argument.

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention was aimed at me or the Minister. If he was aiming it at me, all I will say is that it would not be the first, second, third, fourth or fifth way in which I disagreed with the Attorney General in her reckoning. I will sit down and allow others to speak.

This has been a good debate on the new clause, which is interesting in many ways from a constitutional point of view, both theoretically and practically. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich does not have a secondary role. I am his constituency neighbour. He has a fantastic role that he is fulfilling as a brilliant constituency MP. It was a great honour to campaign with him in the general election, and I see a return on that investment, as he is a vocal spokesman for people of all political shades in the fine county town of Suffolk.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North East may have, shall we say, come here through the use of a crutch, but she should not downplay the role that her speeches could play. Of course we listen. We listen to all sides. Indeed, I have listened intently to the debate on the new clause. I will say one thing to the hon. Member for Hammersmith: although I completely understand where he was coming from, and his points made political sense, he appeared at one point to suggest that it almost was not necessarily relevant to debate the new clause. The new clause is about judicial review, and we know the first two words of the Bill’s title. In fact, we just agreed to the clause on the short title, which includes the phrase “judicial review”; I think my speech on that was the shortest I have ever made, by the way.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings made some important contributions, which I am grateful for. I hope he received the letter we sent him, which I believe has been circulated to other Committee members, containing the response on the important matter of the most vulnerable children—those in care. I hope that reassures him on the safeguards. Secondly, on the make-up of the coronial stakeholder group in administrative justice, which introduces a broad umbrella because of the nature of the engagement, I hope that the letter has persuaded my right hon. Friend. I am therefore tempted to eke out the general thread of my argument and hope to encourage him that I am someone who is generally able to persuade people of things. The sword of Damocles that he holds over this speech with the threat to vote can be dealt with.

I should pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his former role as Security Minister, which he referred to. He was involved in important proceedings when our country, as was proudly illustrated this morning, faced great threats, not least terrorist threats. He was also a Transport Minister, and I met him to discuss roads in my constituency. The essence of his argument was that the Bill does not go far enough, so he wants to debate important probing amendments. I will come back to that wider point.

On the specifics, as has been explained, new clause 3 would amend section 67 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 by replacing the wording in subsection (8) and adding three additional subsections. Subsection (8) was originally drafted as an ouster clause—we have already debated ouster clauses in relation to clause 2— to ensure that certain decisions of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal would not be subject to judicial review by the High Court. A right of appeal on a point of law was later introduced by the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and is set out in what is now section 67A.

The tribunal was intended to be the highest authority concerning matters such as the conduct of intelligence services. However, a 2019 judgment of the UK Supreme Court rendered the ouster clause of limited effect in what we have all referred to today as the Privacy International case. The Supreme Court found that while subsection (8) was effective at excluding judicial review of IPT decisions on their merits or jurisdictional decisions involving issues of fact, it did not have the effect of wholly ousting the High Court’s supervisory jurisdiction.

The new clause would amend the ouster clause in section 67 by clarifying and adding to the text in that section so as to meet the objection of the Supreme Court in Privacy International. That is an interesting idea, and I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware that the Government’s consultation, published in March, expressed concern around the uncertainty that exists as to whether, or in what circumstances, ouster clauses will be upheld by the courts. We therefore consulted on options to try to add some clarity with a broad framework for the interpretation of ouster clauses, but, having reflected on the many useful responses we received, we concluded that although our intention was to add clarity, the effect may in fact be to muddy the waters yet further.

As an alternative approach, we are pursuing the ouster clause in clause 2, which is designed to overturn Cart, seeks to learn the lessons from unsuccessful ouster clauses of the past, and is drafted in a clear and explicit way. We have been open in saying that if that approach is successful, we may consider whether it can be used as a model for ousters in other areas, where it is appropriate to do so. At least conceptually, I see the link between ousting the High Court from reviewing permission to appeal decisions of the upper tribunal and ousting the High Court from reviewing decisions of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. They are both essentially concerned with which court ultimately should have the final say on an issue.

I am going to give the Committee the benefit of my further wisdom in a few moments, but on that particular issue, the point about the Investigatory Powers Tribunal is that it is a specialist court, and the intention of the House in establishing that court—the Minister made reference to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016; the 2016 Act was the one that I took through the House, as he knows—was to indicate that had Parliament decided that the tribunal’s important work, which essentially gives authority as well as supervision to the security services, should not be questioned in an ordinary court. The Supreme Court countered Parliament’s will in that respect. That is why this is so significant. It draws into question whether the Supreme Court might do the same in respect of other primary legislation that has ouster clauses in it, which is why it is important to act now in this Bill.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s legislative prowess in taking that Bill through the House at the time. It is precisely because of his point that in paragraph 55 of our consultation response document, published in July, the example we give of a case where we may look at using a Cart-like model of ouster clause in future is exactly this one—the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. We have made clear that we are looking at that. The Government are not closed-minded to the possibility of going further on judicial review. In a recent interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the Deputy Prime Minister spoke of the importance of restoring power to Parliament, while recognising the need for reform of judicial review to be an iterative process. I am sure he will have heard today’s debate and the many forceful points made, but the Government will keep an open mind on whether that tribunal might be a candidate for an ouster clause in future.

Our focus in the Bill is to tackle the two particular issues identified by the independent review of administrative law: the efficiency of Cart JRs and the lack of remedial flexibility in judicial review. I know my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings is sympathetic on this point. There is a good reason for prioritising Cart—we have a judicial backlog, and the resource implication of it is immediate and credible. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says from a sedentary position that he understands. It will be important to ensure that before an ouster clause is proposed in any particular context, careful thought is given to what will be achieved by doing so and to considerations germane to that context. One size does not necessarily fit all, but we are open minded.

A key point I wanted to communicate is that my right hon. Friend invited me to become a star. His invitation to stellarhood is one I cannot begin to match, but I will at least attempt to do so by offering him an invitation to attend the Ministry of Justice to discuss with officials present some of these ideas in depth—especially given his expertise from his time as a Minister, talking in that neat language of Ministers and officials who know their Bill—and to talk through some of the technicalities. We do see the merit in what he says; it is more a question of timing.

In summary, my right hon. Friend says we do not go far enough; I would say that we go this far at this time. I hope that reassures my right hon. Friend and other colleagues that this is an issue to which the Government are already alive and to which I am sure future consideration will be given. But for now, for the specific purpose of the Bill, I respectfully request that he withdraw his new clause.

When I said the Minister could become a star, I should have said a brighter star, because he has already shone in his response, particularly his generous invitation to meet with and discuss these matters with his officials in his Department. I take his point, of course, about the characteristics of the Bill, the need to address Cart in particular, and its relationship to the backlog in the courts. However, the Bill is about principle as well as practice. There is a practical reason for introducing the Bill, but a principle underpins it, which he has articulated a number of times during our deliberations: it is not right that the court system should be gamed to frustrate the will of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley spoke about his constituents wanting to see the will of the House as a manifestation of their will being delivered. The disturbing rise in judicial activism and judge-made law raises fundamental questions of parliamentary sovereignty. Mr Rosindell, whether you are or are not convinced of that I do not know, as you are the impartial Chair in our affairs, but the witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee are certainly convinced. Professor Ekins said that the Privacy International case did constitute a “very serious attack” on some fundamental questions of the constitution. He stated:

“The rule of law requires respect for the law, which includes parliamentary sovereignty and the stability of statute.

In oral evidence, Sir Stephen Laws said:

“If the courts are deciding judicial review decisions that set the rules for future hypothetical cases, they are usurping the legislative function.”––[Official Report, Judicial Review and Courts Public Bill Committee, 2 November 2021; c. 9-15.]

That is pretty damning criticism of the Privacy International judgment and other recent cases.

There is an argument that at that time there was a particular group of Supreme Court judges—I am hesitating so as to choose the right words—who took eccentric decisions, and that things have now returned to normal, but that is not good enough. As the Attorney General said in her recent speech,

“the mould has been broken.”

Precedent was set, and that is the problem with ouster clauses. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith will know, other Acts of Parliament, including the Intelligence Services Act 1994, Security Service Act 1989 and the Police Act 1997, contain ouster clauses that could be challenged on the basis of the Privacy International case.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key issue in relation to new clause 3 is the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the complexity of the things it will deal with, and the complexity of the roles of the organisation and people it is overseeing? That complex debate should be dealt with only by Parliament. We are best placed to have that debate and to come to the right conclusion. Decisions about whether judicial review will apply to that or not should be for this place, not for the judiciary.

I agree. Indeed, when I proposed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, to which the hon. Member for Hammersmith referred and which built on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which Privacy International specifically dealt with, there was a genuine spirit of co-operation across the House. I worked closely with my then shadow, who went on to become Leader of the Opposition. I often say to him these days, “You learned your trade under me.” In fact, I think he said that to me. In any case, we worked closely on those matters and it was detailed scrutiny, as my hon. Friend has just described, that led to that Bill becoming an Act.

Indeed, we undertook extensive pre-legislative scrutiny, and one of the people I appointed to that task is now Attorney General. The scrutiny, under Lord Murphy, looked at the Bill in some detail, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith suggested, and there were long debates in the House and in the other place before it became law. As I emphasised earlier, we were determined that there should be proper safeguards.

The essence of this, Mr Rosindell, is that in these difficult, delicate and challenging matters of security, Parliament has to legislate—I would not say regularly, but as often as necessary—to allow our security services and the forces of law to stay ahead of those who wish to do us harm. The problem is that the capabilities of malevolent elements are dynamic, so the legal powers of those with the mission to keep us safe must match that dynamism. That is always challenging to Parliament, because there is a balance to be struck between the maintenance of law and the protection of liberty. That debate is the context for many of these considerations. It is not the place of the courts of make up the law as they go along, but that is exactly what has occurred.

I referred to the Attorney General earlier. She could not have put that case more plainly in the speech she made a few weeks ago at Cambridge University:

“The Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of Privacy International was also profoundly troubling for a number of reasons. A decision by Parliament to limit the judicial review jurisdiction of the Courts should only be taken after the most serious consideration by the legislature. And there may well be circumstances where Parliament does consider that to be appropriate. In such circumstances, the Court should be very slow to deprive legislation of its proper meaning”.

That is essentially what the Court did in the case of Privacy International. It deprived legislation of its proper meaning. The most generous way to describe it is that the Court interpreted the decision made by Parliament in what I regard as a perverse way, and, in the words of the Attorney General, a “profoundly troubling” way.

The new clause, which the Minister will know is in scope—it is not for me to gauge that; our expert Clerks judged it, so there is no doubt about whether it is appropriate to add it to the Bill—would address that concern about creeping judge-made law in what is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich said, a very sensitive area. I am grateful to the Minister, who made a generous offer and rightly drew attention to his helpful letter on issues raised by me and other hon. Members in our earlier consideration. I am particularly grateful to him for fully taking into account the case that I made on behalf of disadvantaged court users; his letter is most welcome in that respect. With the offer that he made of further discussion, the open-mindedness that he has shown and his clear understanding of why the new clause was tabled, I will—hesitatingly and to some degree reluctantly—beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 5

Evidence in judicial review proceedings

“(1) Unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, no court shall—

(a) permit oral evidence to be elicited in judicial review proceedings; or

(b) order public bodies or any person exercising or entitled to exercise public authority to disclose evidence in anticipation of or in the course of judicial review proceedings,

(2) In relation to any judicial review proceedings, or in anticipation of any judicial review proceedings, in which a public body or a person exercising or entitled to exercise public authority argues, or indicates its intention to argue, that—

(a) the proceedings concern a matter that is non-justiciable, or

(b) that an enactment excludes or limits judicial review,

(3) In subsection (2), “evidential duty” means any principle of law or rule of court touching the identification of relevant facts or reasoning underlying the measure or other matter in respect of which judicial review is sought, or any order of the court to adduce oral or other evidence.

(4) Nothing in subsection (2) or (3) affects an evidential duty that may arise in relation to judicial review proceedings other than in relation to a measure or other matter that is argued to be non-justiciable or to be excluded from judicial review by legislation.”—(Sir John Hayes.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause deals with evidence. Again, it has been deemed by the Clerks to be in scope and it would therefore be an appropriate addition to the Bill. It is very much in the spirit of my previous remarks.

It is important to understand that the new clause has two parts. Subsection (1) aims to limit the extent to which judicial review proceedings involve the testing of evidence and a resolution disputing questions of fact. The traditional view is that judicial review proceedings are an inappropriate forum in which to solicit or test evidence because it is a supervisory jurisdiction that should focus on questions of law rather than questions of fact. That was its well-understood basis for a considerable period of time.

As well as the changing character of the courts’ role in relation to the legislature, there has also been a change in the application of judicial review in respect of evidence. The courts ought to be focusing on the legality of decisions taken and whether it stands up to appropriate levels of scrutiny. That is the business of a judicial review. Allowing disclosure and cross-examination could lead to litigation becoming an exercise whereby new material is introduced on a fishing expedition. Rather than testing the proper exercise of powers, as judicial review is supposed to do, it could lead to the whole character of a case being revisited and perhaps the introduction of new evidence that was not pertinent to the original decision or even known to the original decision makers. That is not its role, and the Bill is a perfect opportunity to address that distortion of its original character and purpose.

As the Minister has told us a number of times, the Bill aims to tighten the judicial review process and essentially re-establish its pertinence, salience and purpose. The new clause would do exactly that. The change in practice has arisen partly because of overarching legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1998. There is a case for the wholehearted reform of the Human Rights Act, or its abolition altogether. However, this is not the place to have that debate—although, I understand that the Lord Chancellor has spoken on those matters and is considering addressing them in the House in due course. The point to be made here and now is that the Act has spilled over into judicial review decisions. It is clear that in recent years judicial review using the Act has become an opportunity to have a much wider debate and discussion than this legal mechanism originally intended—the original purpose was to check the correctness of decision making.

Subsection (2) of new clause 5 addresses the problem that arises when judicial proceedings are used to force public bodies to disclose information even in contexts where the public body argues that the law forbids judicial review. If a matter is non-justiciable, or if legislation ousts judicial review, the public body will not be compelled to disclose evidence simply because litigation is threatened or initiated. The clause will require courts to decide whether the matter is justiciable or whether legislation permits judicial review before the public body will have any duty to disclose information relevant to litigation.

New clause 5 would not allow any litigation that should not. Those are cases in which the matter is justiciable and no ouster clause forbids judicial review. It would require courts to make decisions in the right order, avoiding the risk that was apparent in the Supreme Court’s Prorogation judgment: that the courts are led astray by the evidence before them rather than focusing squarely on the question of law that they should decide. The Miller judgment was exceptional and, in my judgment, perverse. It is fundamental to our constitution that the appointment of Ministers, the Dissolution of Parliament and, by extension, Prorogation are matters for the Executive and not the courts.

One might argue that when the Supreme Court was established—it was a sorry day, Mr Rosindell, but you will not allow me to debate that at great length here, and nor will I—this was almost bound to happen: that the very existence of the Supreme Court would encourage those who sit on it to extend their powers into matters of what the Attorney General called “high politics”. That apart, the Prorogation judgment was a naked example of the courts making a constitutional decision in a way that is appropriate only for this elected House, our Parliament—both because we are answerable to the people and because, as I said earlier, our legitimacy derives from the people. This is about proper process, but it touches on the broader issue of the respective roles of the judiciary, the Executive and the legislature—the separation of powers to which I referred in an earlier sitting.

The Minister will again, I hope, recognise that the new clause is very much in the spirit that he set out when he made it clear that the Government want judicial review to be what it was always intended to be and has been for most of its life, rather than something very different, which is what it has become. With that in mind, I hope that he will give the new clause, which is significant but not in any way out of keeping with the Bill’s intent, a fair wind. Rather than, as last time, offering me a meeting—although I was very grateful for that meeting—I hope that this time he will say that the Government accept it, and will at a later stage introduce a Government amendment.

I do not necessarily expect the Minister to accept the new clause as drafted; he will want his draftsmen to take a close look at it, and often parliamentary draftsmen are able to a better job than I ever could, even with the assistance of my cerebral hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich. The Minister may want to look at the detail of this, but I hope that he will at the very least give it wholehearted consideration, perhaps with a view to the Government coming back with their own thoughts on how we might look at the issue of evidence, and how it is properly used in judicial review.

I give full credit to the right hon. Gentleman, who has taken the new clause, important and substantial though it is, and turned it almost into a Queen’s Speech. We will have a second judicial review Bill, a repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998, and then a repeal of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The Minister will be a very busy man in the new year.

We will see. Unfashionably, I will confine my comments to new clause 5, which restricts disclosure by public bodies and the use of oral evidence in judicial review proceedings to circumstances where there are “compelling reasons”. In addition, under subsection (2), if a public body argues, or indicates its intention to argue, in relation to or in anticipation of any judicial review proceedings, that the proceedings concern a matter that is non-justiciable or that review is excluded by an enactment, the public body will not be subject to any evidential duty at all until a court regards the matter to be reviewable.

Subsection (1) relates to disclosure orders, which are already limited by the courts. Additional legislative provision is unnecessary and may reduce clarity and cause unnecessary litigation. Oral evidence is rarely used in judicial review proceedings. However, the courts retain a discretion to permit oral evidence where it is considered necessary to do so. Judges use that discretion appropriately and frequently deny requests to adduce oral evidence unless it would, in fact, be necessary for the case at hand. Applications for oral evidence can be made by claimants and defendants in judicial review claims, and there is no indication that the impact on public authorities has been thought through. The system works well, generally respecting the unique nature of judicial review while allowing parties—both claimants and public bodies—to adduce oral evidence in rare cases where it is necessary to do so. There is no indication that there is a problem with the system that the proposals seek to address.

The new clause goes beyond oral evidence and imposes a bar on judges ordering disclosure of evidence. There is no formal disclosure duty on parties in judicial review proceedings, unless the court orders otherwise. Such orders are already rare and there are many examples of courts refusing applications for disclosure on the basis that they are not necessary. Indeed, the court will not countenance fishing expeditions, where an applicant for judicial review may not have a positive case to make against an administrative decision and wishes to obtain disclosure of documents in the hope of finding something to use to fashion a possible challenge. Where the disclosure power is used by courts, however rarely, it is vital: a judge will only ever order disclosure where it is necessary for the fair resolution of the case.

It is unclear what adding a requirement of “compelling reasons” for ordering disclosures of evidence would do to the existing position. The current test, as set out by Lord Bingham in Tweed v. Parades Commission for Northern Ireland, is:

“whether, in the given case, disclosure appears to be necessary in order to resolve the matter fairly and justly.”

On one reading, that would be just an alternative translation of the existing position: a “compelling reason” for adducing oral evidence would be that it is “necessary” to do so. If that is the case, the proposed additional clause is a clear waste of time. However, if it is intended to be a stricter test to raise the threshold for which evidence is admissible, that is problematic in that it would operate to preclude disclosure of evidence required to resolve the case fairly and justly. That would clearly be to the detriment of the parties and the wider public, and therefore should be resisted.

It is also important to note that disclosure of evidence benefits not only the claimant but often the public body, by allowing the defendant public body to show that the decision taken was lawful. Defendant public bodies may also make applications for disclosure and/or oral evidence. Subsection (1) would reduce the ability for claimants to obtain disclosure, which is crucial for claimants to be able to bring a case as well as for defendants to be able to defend it.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is setting out what the new clause does, but he will understand that at its heart is the determination that judicial review should look at the specifics of an individual case, rather than a systemic consideration of the whole administrative system. In recent times, because of the courts’ willingness to draw on all kinds of evidence, they have tended to broaden the scope of their work in a systemic fashion. What does he think about that and what should we do about it?

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not agree that that is what is happening. Even if he had a point there, I am trying to make the point, by looking at the changes that his new clause would make, that there are already safeguards in the system to prevent that and that the rules are tightly drawn in relation to evidence and disclosure. The courts do have discretion, but they use that appropriately and reservedly.

Any limitation of the disclosure of evidence, as well as oral evidence, beyond the current test risks undermining the effectiveness of judicial review proceedings for all parties. The current form of judicial review, which has limited disclosure requirements on the parties, works only because the parties are subject to duties of candour. In many respects, the disclosure obligations, where parties must submit all relevant evidence and information relating to the case to the court, ensure that the duty of candour is complied with. In the vast majority of cases, both parties comply fully with the duty of candour, but on the rare occasions when they do not, the judge’s disclosure powers can be used to ensure proper compliance.

In cases where the duty of candour would be limited by the proposals in subsection (2), which I will come to, the basis for limited disclosure requirements falls away. The combination of subsections (1) and (2) may mean that a claimant in a case is faced with the inability to obtain any disclosure at any point from a public body.

In effect, weakening those disclosure powers weakens the duty of candour, which is a vital aspect of fairness in judicial review. If public bodies feel that they do not need to comply with the duty, it will severely weaken the position of claimants, contribute to an inequality of arms in judicial review proceedings and risk completely barring, in practice, the ability for the claimant to bring a judicial review. For all sorts of reasons, including funding, the tight restrictions on bringing claims and the difficulties of bringing claims, there are already substantial problems for any claimant in beginning judicial review proceedings.

Subsection (2) would enable a public authority to effectively disapply the evidential duties, including the duty of candour, by indicating its intention to argue that the matter is not justiciable. That would make many cases completely un-triable. As I have said, the current form of judicial review, with limited fact-finding and disclosure requirements, works only because the parties are subject to a duty of candour. The duty requires a “cards on the table” approach and, as has been noted,

“the vast majority of the cards will start in the authority’s hands”.

For claimants to have the ability to get over the starting line and bring judicial review proceedings, the defendant body must be subject to the duty of candour. The duty ensures that all relevant information and material facts are before the court, and that any information or material facts that either support or undermine their case are disclosed.

As the “Administrative Court Judicial Review Guide” recognises, compliance with the duty of candour is “very important”. It helps to resolve matters efficiently and effectively. By requiring both parties to undertake full disclosure of relevant information early on in proceedings, it allows for a proper assessment of the merits of the case. That can help public bodies show claimants early on evidence that the decision was taken lawfully, which can lead to an early settlement, withdrawal of the challenge or at least the narrowing of the issues in dispute. That avoids substantial unnecessary costs and use of court time.

New clause 5 should have no place in the Bill. Subsection (2) would enable public authorities to disapply the duty of candour where they indicate their intention to argue that the matter is not justiciable. When this is combined with increased difficulty with accessing evidence through disclosure orders, set out by subsection (1), claimants will be denied access to evidence required to advance their case, making many cases unworkable. I therefore hope that the Minister will also resist the new clause.

It is a pleasure to grace this Committee again through a contribution, and to support my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings on new clause 5. It is obviously not related to new clause 3. We did attempt to table other new clauses, but we were unsuccessful because they were deemed to be out of scope, but many of those new clauses were, in fact, not dissimilar to or disconnected from new clauses 3 and 5.

In terms of whether different Lord Chancellors are mild korma or vindaloo, I am usually a korma man, but when it comes to review, I am perhaps more vindaloo, because I think that we do need some significant changes in this area.

I very much welcome the Bill, which, with or without these new clauses, is a significant step in the right direction. I have been pleased to sit through all our sittings in support of the Bill, and I think that the Minister has led proceedings very effectively. It has been quite interesting, because although I do not profess to be a lawyer—I am not a trained lawyer or professional—I am an elected Member of Parliament who cares about my constituents and my constituency, but also about this country and the relationship between the Executive, the legislature and the courts, which is vitally important. I make no apology for commenting on these matters and getting involved, because I think it is very important that elected Members of Parliament do so.

We are very lucky to have our judiciary, and the rule of law in this country is respected all over, but some of these figures can be remarkably prickly—and I have noticed that many seem invariably to have the EU flag on their Twitter profiles. I think there is almost a view that elected Members of Parliament are knuckle-draggers who are not entitled to have a view on a lot of these issues. Well, I disagree. I think that when it comes to matters such as sentencing and the operation of the courts, we as elected Members of Parliament, regardless of our specific views, should absolutely be confident to air them and should not be intellectually intimidated by certain individuals.

I sympathise with the broader view about judges assessing law and procedure, rather than getting sucked into contested facts, and about how evidence sessions can sometimes draw them away from their core function and into dangerous waters. There are many cases. The Adams case is connected to new clause 6 so we will not discuss that, but there is an obvious connection between it, the Miller case and the Privacy International case, which we discussed earlier, and that is the creeping role of the courts beyond their brief and scope, and I think that that has damaging consequences. In the Adams case, in terms of the debate on whether it is enough for a Minister or a Secretary of State to make a decision, I really struggle to agree that it is for judges to decide what is appropriate against established Acts of Parliament. That does not make any sense to me. I think that clarity in this area—and Parliament, through legislation, clarifying the relationship between the Executive, the legislature and the courts—is vitally important.

I go back to this point. I do not see anything that I or my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings have said as being anti the judiciary or the rule of law. We appreciate that they are vitally important and how skilled and learned those individuals are. But I think we were all quite disturbed by some of the Brexit debates. We had the Miller cases in relation to triggering article 50 and Prorogation, and that Daily Mail front page with members of the Supreme Court under the headline, “Enemies of the People”. I think that many of us were disturbed by that, and that is what we want to avoid going forward. We do not want that to be the case again. The danger is that unless there is great clarity about what is and is not appropriate for the courts to get involved in, that could happen again, and we do not want that. This is not about us pointing at the judiciary and the courts and blaming them for any of this. We need to be conscious that we need a clear framework that gets that balance right.

I will leave my comments there. It has been a great pleasure to be part of this Bill Committee, which is now coming to a close, and to support this Bill and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings.

Encouraged by the Minister, I have decided that I will say a few words, even if none of them are original. Most of what I have to say is in agreement with the hon. Member for Hammersmith, but it is good to put the opposition of the SNP on the record.

What would this new clause do? Unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, this new clause would prohibit the use of oral evidence in judicial review and would also prevent courts from ordering any public body to disclose evidence in anticipation or during the course of judicial review proceedings. As we have heard, oral evidence is already rarely used in judicial review proceedings, but the courts retain a discretion to permit oral evidence where it is considered essential to the case. My understanding is that judges use that discretion appropriately, and frequently deny requests to cite oral evidence unless, as I have said, it is considered essential to the case. I am not aware of any indication that the system has the problem that the proposals seek to address.

I wonder what adding a requirement for compelling reasons would do to the existing position. It could be that that is just an alternative translation of the existing position. One compelling reason for adducing oral evidence would be that it is necessary to do so. If that is the case, the new clause is not needed. If the proposed compelling reasons requirement is seen to raise the threshold for which oral evidence is admissible, I think we should all find that problematic. Judges are already only allowing such evidence when it is considered necessary to do so. The clear result of the proposed change would be that oral evidence that is necessary for the fair resolution of the case would not be admitted. That surely cannot be acceptable to the Minister.

New clause 5 would also bar judges from ordering disclosure of evidence. Again, such disclosure is used only when absolutely essential. Judges order disclosure only when that disclosure is vital to resolve the case fairly. In many respects, the disclosure obligations act as a way of ensuring that the duty of candour is complied with where parties must submit to the court all relevant evidence and information relating to the case. In the vast majority of cases, both parties will comply, but where they do not the judge can ensure compliance by using disclosure powers. Weakening those disclosure powers would, in effect, weaken the duty of candour, which is a vital aspect of fairness in judicial review. If public bodies and Governments believe that they do not need to comply with that duty, the position of claimants would be severely weakened in judicial review proceedings. We should increase access to justice, not make it increasingly pointless.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady, who made some perfectly reasonable points. It is disappointing that she did not rise to the bait by entering into the curry-labelling discussion instigated by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich is a vindaloo—I think he is a phaal. Anyone who googles that will find that it is the hottest curry there is. Maybe my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings is a phaal as well. It is inevitable, then, that they all think the Bill does not go phaal enough. As a great fan of curry, I generally go for the specials on the à la Cart menu. [Laughter.] That was not a reference to clause 2, by the way.

In new clause 5, my right hon. Friend is probing in his uniquely penetrating way of gaining the Committee’s attention and focusing on some important points. I will try to set out why, although there is merit in what he says, it is not right for this precise moment—perhaps with further work, not least as there may be other potential routes to achieving his end.

The new clause would amend the Bill to include some specific rules relating to disclosure and the duty of candour in judicial review cases. The clause would do three things. First, it would remove the ability of the court to permit oral evidence to be given unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary. Secondly, it would remove the ability of the court to order a public authority to disclose evidence at all, either in anticipation of proceedings or during proceedings, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary. Thirdly, in cases where a public authority is arguing that the subject matter is non-justiciable altogether or judicial review jurisdiction has been ousted, it would remove any evidential requirement on the public authority until the court has ruled on the subject of justiciability or jurisdiction.

The duty of candour is a common law concept that obliges parties in judicial review proceedings to disclose information relevant to the case. The independent review of administrative law examined that duty when it conducted a call for evidence last year. Legal practitioners and other stakeholders identified issues relating to a lack of clarity surrounding the exact extent and precise nature of the obligations arising from the duty. The independent review concluded that the duty of candour may have previously been interpreted in a way that causes a disproportionate burden on public authorities, and that there would be benefit in clarifying the parameters of the duty. The Government would like to ensure that the duty of candour is not invoked by claimants to rouse political debates or to discover extraneous information that would have otherwise been kept confidential.

I reassure my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich that this remains very much a live issue for the Government. The difference here, I suspect, is not a question of objective, but of how best to achieve it. The independent review recommended that the issue could be addressed through changes to the Treasury Solicitor’s guidance. Although that is, of course, a matter for the Treasury Solicitor, the advantage to using guidance to address some of the issues that have occurred with the duty of candour in the past is that it can be more flexible and dynamic than legislation.

As I have already indicated, the Government remain open-minded about the possibility of going further on judicial review reform in time. Although my instinct continues to be that any issues with the operation of the duty of candour are better addressed through other means, and not through primary legislation, I will reflect on the arguments that my right hon. Friend has made for a legislative response. We have already discussed the point of the meeting. I am quite clear that that could be wide-ranging and could include this discussion, too. They all fit within the same theme, which he has painted with a broad brush today. I am quite happy to look at it in those terms, but also in more specific terms, particularly with the benefit of officials and so on.

In the light of the complexity of the issues at stake, and the importance of getting the legislation right, I cannot accept my right hon. Friend’s new clause. I hope that, with my reassurance that that the Government will continue to actively consider the matter, he will agree to withdraw it.

I am grateful to the Minister for again offering further discussion on these subjects. I am also pleased that he is considering other means to achieve the objectives that I set out. He is right that the independent review addressed these matters and, by the way, did so on the basis that I described: that by taking wide evidence judicial review was rehearsing decisions rather than checking on the exercise of them. Judicial review is about ensuring that, in the exercise of decision making, all has been done properly. It is not about reheating wide-ranging contextual arguments.

The problem with collecting oral evidence in a permissive way is that it is bound to lead to just that. That was identified by Professor Ekins and others, in the evidence that they gave us and beyond. The Minister is right to consider through guidance how that could be altered. Statutory guidance would be a very effective way of doing it, providing that his officials and others are confident that it is sufficient. There is always a balance to be struck between primary legislation and guidance, and we need to be clear that it will be sufficient in this case.

We talked a little about how jurisprudence has moved on, and in particular the Miller case. In the end, the decision of the Supreme Court in that case meant that it, in the words of the Attorney General,

“stepped into matters of high policy in which the UK courts have historically held themselves to have no constitutional role.”

That is a direct quote from the Government’s most senior Law Officer. In the two new clauses, and in those that were not selected because they were deemed not to be in scope, and which I will therefore not discuss, I have tried to make the case that the Bill is very welcome, but it is a korma rather than a vindaloo. It is certainly not a madras. It can be more varied and hotter, to develop the metaphor. I can match the Minister blow for blow in terms of my grasp of Indian cuisine.

On a point of information, my right hon. Friend must be aware that a madras is technically milder than a vindaloo, but a vindaloo is certainly milder than a phaal.

That is true, but I see the Minister as something between the two. He is more of a jalfrezi—spicy, lively and deeply satisfying, in terms of his response to my new clauses at least.

It is worth drawing attention to the remarks of Lord Sumption, who of course commented on exactly these matters in his Reith lecture. Jonathan Sumption is the judge who, perhaps more than any other, has set out the proper functions of the courts in relation to Parliament. In his Reith lecture, he said:

“It is the proper function of the courts to stop Government exceeding or abusing their legal powers.”

That is exactly the role of judicial review, by the way. He continued:

“Allowing judges to circumvent parliamentary legislation, or review the merits of policy decisions for which Ministers are answerable to Parliament, raises quite different issues. It confers vast discretionary powers on a body of people who are not constitutionally accountable for what they do. It also undermines the single biggest advantage of the political process, which is to accommodate the divergent interests and opinions of citizens.”

He went on to say in that lecture that it was about developing the right kind of political culture. It is appropriate that the political culture that underpins our deliberations in this place is a means by which views can be mitigated and ameliorated, where necessary, in a way that courts cannot do because of their character and function. I remain of Jonathan Sumption’s view that much needs to be done to put right what the courts have got wrong in recent years, and I stand alongside the Attorney General in her determination to do that.

Although I understand that the Bill is not sufficiently wide-ranging to do all that I want it to do, there is scope for the Government to do more in respect of the new clause and new clause 3. I am grateful that the Minister has implicitly acknowledged that by welcoming further discussion.

On the new clause that stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich—I will just say, as the Minister did, that my hon. Friend is an outstanding Member of Parliament and the people of Ipswich should be proud to have him—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 10

Publicly funded legal representation for bereaved people at inquests

‘(1) Section 10 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), after “(4)” insert “or (7).”

(3) After subsection (6), insert—

“(7) This subsection is satisfied where—

(a) The services consist of advocacy at an inquest where the individual is an Interested Person pursuant to section 47(2)(a), (b), or (m) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 because of their relationship to the deceased; and

(b) One or more public authorities are Interested Persons in relation to the inquest pursuant to section 47(2) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 or are likely to be designated as such.

(8) For the purposes of this section “public authority” has the meaning given by section 6(3) of the Human Rights Act 1998.”’—(Andy Slaughter.)

This new clause would ensure that bereaved people (such as family members) are entitled to publicly funded legal representation in inquests where public bodies (such as the police or a hospital trust) are legally represented.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

On a point of order, Mr Rosindell. Before we conclude our proceedings on the Bill, I wonder whether it might be appropriate to offer my thanks, on behalf of me and my colleagues, to everyone who has contributed to making this, certainly compared with other Bills that I have done in the past, a smooth-running and not unenjoyable process, if I may put it that way. I will not take up a lot of time, but I would particularly like to thank you, Mr Rosindell, and Sir Mark for the efficient and not indulgent, but certainly sympathetic, way in which you have chaired these proceedings. I know that that has been difficult, particularly today, because we had Sir David Amess’s memorial service this morning. We all respect the fact that you and Sir Mark have chaired the Committee with your usual great skill and attentiveness.

I thank the Clerks, who have given us extraordinary assistance on technical matters relating to the Bill, for the way in which they have helped us, and helped me, with my rustiness, to get through the first Bill that I have done in this capacity for a number of years. I also thank everyone else who makes this a smooth-running process. That includes the Doorkeepers, Hansard and everyone else on whom we rely to ensure that these things go as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

May I say thank you to a few other people? I thank the Minister and his colleagues for the way in which they have approached the Bill. There are some fundamental differences between us. We voted against the Bill’s Second Reading and, sadly, we have not managed to carry many votes here to improve the Bill. There are a number of improvements and amendments within the changes to the courts procedure that we would fully support, but there is, at the heart of the Bill, something that we find worrying, which is a further attempt by the Executive to encroach on the discretion of the judiciary, which is one of the great sacred parts of our constitution, so I am glad that at least we have resisted today any further attempts to do that.

Notwithstanding that, this Committee has undertaken a good-natured, but at the same time thorough, investigation of the provisions. I thank all my colleagues for their assistance and prompting—even when I go on for a long time—but I would particularly like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North, who, seeing me just beginning my role and being thrown in at the deep end with the Bill, stepped up, notwithstanding having just been a shadow Minister on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, to carry the burden of dealing with the substantial bulk of the provisions here. Sadly, he is not with us today because he has tested positive for covid. Therefore, I have been told to go off and get a PCR test as well; we probably all have as a consequence of that. I gather that my hon. Friend is tired but otherwise in good spirits. He is an extremely kind and courteous gentleman at all times, and I am sure that we all wish him a speedy recovery.

We have come almost to time on the Bill. We thought that we might go short; we have taken our time, but we have not taken more time. All I will say in conclusion is that there has been a culinary theme to the Bill. We had cherries on the first day, and ended with curries on the last, but I hope that, in looking at the transcripts, those who scrutinise us will not think we have made too much of a meal of it.

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. May I echo the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, particularly in thanking you and Sir Mark for your dual chairmanship, which has operated effectively and efficiently, together with your officials and the Clerks? May I particularly thank the Doorkeepers? As I said earlier—I really meant it—what we saw from them today, walking behind Sir David’s coffin, was incredibly moving.

I thank all members of the Committee, on both sides. No one goes into proceedings expecting that we will all agree on all points, but that does not matter; conduct is different from that. I think we have seen effective debate, proceeding at reasonable speed most of the time, but with that combination of depth and rigour that is important in a Bill Committee. That is the point: we are going through a Bill line by line. I am grateful to SNP and Labour colleagues. I particularly thank those on my side of the Committee. We heard many excellent speeches and contributions, but they also knew when to keep their own counsel, so that we could keep the ship of the Bill sailing in the right direction.

This is an important Bill. The context is difficult. The post-pandemic situation is challenging, with a significant backlog of cases, and we are doing everything we can to deal with that. The Bill contains some significant measures on that front. It also contains the important reform of judicial review—more for another time.

It remains only for me to thank everybody for their participation. I am grateful that we have managed to move to this stage, and that we now move onwards and upwards.

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. On behalf of the Back-Bench Members on this side of the Committee—and I hope others too—I thank the Minister and the shadow Minister. I served as a shadow Minister and a Minister for 19 years and I know how hard it is, particularly from the other side of the Committee, to maintain the progress of debate and to retain the calibre and character of scrutiny.

I thank the Minister for the way he has gone about his business, and the shadow team for the way they have gone about theirs. I wish the hon. Member for Stockton North well, as he has now fallen ill. I also thank you, Mr Rosindell, and your fellow Chairman, and all others who have made the Bill proceedings possible.

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. I want to reiterate what everybody else has said and thank everybody involved. I wish the hon. Member for Stockton North well and I hope that he recovers by a week today, St Andrew’s day, because he will be wanting to celebrate.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East—I have finally got the constituency name. That is not as great a constituency name as South Holland and The Deepings, however. I am going to visit, and I will let the right hon. Gentleman know when I do.

This has been a really interesting Bill Committee. I used to resist going on Bill Committees, but I came from the Nationality and Borders Bill Committee straight to this one, and they are the best bit of the job, because they are probably the only time we really get an in-depth understanding of what we are doing. A lot of the time, we have to skim through things because there is so much to consider. I look forward to the next Bill Committee.

I thank the Clerks and everyone involved, including the Doorkeepers. For those who are not speaking and are not involved in the debates, it must be really boring having to sit there and listen to it all. There are no nods of agreement there, but I can pick the answer up telepathically. If I have missed anyone in my thanks, I am sorry—oh, the Chairs. Thank you very much; thank you again for your forbearance, Mr Rosindell, when I was injured. I am still injured, but am recovering.

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. I did not mention the hon. Member for Stockton North; I hope he recovers. I also wish to thank my officials, who have been excellent—very high quality—for my first Bill Committee. I hope we keep up the good work as we move forward. I am grateful to everyone who has helped us to reach this point.

I add my thanks to the Committee for its deliberations over the past few weeks; to my colleague, Sir Mark, for co-chairing the Committee with me; and to Clerks, officials, Doorkeepers and all concerned in ensuring the passage of the Bill through Committee.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

JRCB16 Professor Jason Varuhas (supplementary)

JRCB17 Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission