In this lively debate to the House of Lords, Lord Bilimoria raises concerns over the power granted to the Government under Clause 7 of the EU Withdrawal Bill. Lord Bilimoria reminds the House that the Government attempted to avoid Parliament when concerned with enacting Article 50. He notes Parliament must be remembered as independent from the Government and the power of Parliament to oversee and scrutinise Government must not be compromised. Lord Bilimoria furthers his argument by quoting a direct threat from David Lidington who responded to the Strathclyde report and stated that the Lords must not block legislation.
With his closing remarks Lord Bilimoria uses the time to point out that judicial review will certainly increase to prevent ministers overstepping the mark, but this is avoidable if the supremacy of Parliament is retained.
EUROPEAN UNION (WITHDRAWAL) BILL
28th February 2018
If I may, I shall just reference the former Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, who wrote recently:
“Having just spent four months considering the EU (Withdrawal) Bill … I don’t think I have ever seen a piece of legislation that conferred such power on the executive to change the law of the land by statutory instrument … and where the entire structure was so closely interwoven that the same end could often be achieved by different routes”.
We have not yet touched on this, but we had the Strathclyde review from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. On 26 October 2015, noble Lords withheld agreements to tax credit regulations and the following day a Motion was moved and narrowly defeated and, therefore, the Prime Minister said that we should review this. The House was criticised for flexing its political muscle and the review said that we should,
“understand better the expectations of both Houses when it comes to secondary legislation and, in particular, whether the House of Lords should retain its veto”.
We built up lots of experience with secondary legislation and, of course, the House of Commons is meant to be primary and its will should not be blocked. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde said:
“It would be regrettable if the Lords simply became a highly politicised ‘House of Opposition’”.
We are not a House of opposition; when that happened, it was a rare occurrence for all of us present, because since 1968 there has been a convention that we should not reject statutory instruments. It has very rarely happened. The rejection of the tax credits regulation broke new ground.
So it is much more complicated. There are so many different types of statutory instruments, including super-affirmative, subject to affirmative resolution procedure, subject to negative resolution procedure, laid instruments and unlaid instruments. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said that there were already 8,000 statutory instruments in place regarding the European Union. If you look at the number of instruments over the years, it runs into thousands. How many thousand statutory instruments does the Minister predict we will need to implement this Bill?
The right honourable David Lidington responded to the Strathclyde report, saying:
“Whilst recognising the valuable role of the House of Lords in scrutinising SIs, the Government remains concerned that there is no mechanism for the elected chamber to overturn a decision by the unelected chamber on SIs … We must, therefore, keep the situation under review and remain prepared to act if the primacy of the Commons is further threatened”.
Here we have a threat to this House—that if we dare to challenge the statutory instruments, we are going to get into trouble. I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when this came up, said the same thing in the debate.
Now the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has brought to our notice the wide powers tucked away in Schedule 8 and the repealing by secondary legislation of these—
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but does not he see how absurd the argument is that he is putting when these European regulations are matters over which the House of Commons has no choice but to implement? The whole point of this Bill is that it is restoring it to the primacy of Parliament to decide on these regulations.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth has great foresight, because I am about to cover that in my speech.
In terms of limiting the powers of Ministers, is that not within Clause 7? Forgive me if I have misread that, but I refer both to the point that the noble Lord is making and to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made earlier.
Do Henry VIII clauses give Governments the power of royal despots? Well, secondary legislation is used all the time to amend the text of primary legislation in non-despotic ways, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said—they do not have to be. In fact, the biggest Henry VIII section of them all can be found in the European Communities Act 1972—the very piece of legislation that we are repealing.
I am coming to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—will he please have some patience? Specifically, Section 2(2) of that Act deals with the type of EU legislation and rulings that need to be transposed into UK law. Typically, these involve EU directives where the intended outcome of the law is made clear, but it is up to the individual member states how to implement them. After Brexit, if Brexit happens, the Government want to use a Henry VIII clause in reverse—to adapt EU laws to make them British. For example, disputes that are currently referred to EU regulators or courts will be amended to refer to their British equivalents. The logic of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is that, if you are going to have a swathe of amendments to undo primary legislation that has already been made using secondary legislation, you should make those replacements in the same way. It is not as simple as that; because of the “deficiencies arising from withdrawal”, the references to the EU regulators, the European Court of Justice and other entities will no longer have any sway if there is Brexit. It is not as simple as saying, “Because they are simple things, we just can’t do this”, and the Government saying, “We will just use these Henry VIII powers to tidy up things”. The problem is that it might alter not just technical details but also the substantive effect of the law. These amendments are trying to protect really important issues.
The Supreme Court has also said that it is well established that, unlike statutes, the lawfulness of statutory instruments can be challenged in court. Even if a statutory instrument gives Ministers broad powers, the courts have established that they will apply limitations. The broader the power, the more likely the courts are to intervene to ensure that the intention of the law in question is not being altered or undermined. Does the Minister accept that?
I conclude that the power to amend all EU-derived primary and secondary legislation by the Government without sufficient scrutiny, checks and control, bypassing Parliament, goes against the ultimate supremacy of Parliament itself.