LONDON – The EU Withdrawal Bill will give “excessively wide” powers to government ministers after Brexit, a House of Lords committee has warned.
Peers have criticised the bill, which is designed to transfer EU law into UK law and give the government power to amend legislation to ensure it works properly following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The House of Lords’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report, published on Thursday, specifically criticises the delegated powers the government hopes to introduce, which the peers call “unacceptably wide.”
The report says that parliament should be given further abilities to scrutinise the so-called “Henry VIII” powers which include ministers being allowed to amend or repeal the EU withdrawal bill itself.
The bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons in September, which the prime minister described as a “historic decision to back the will of the people.”
However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the legislation an “unprecedented power grab” by ministers, and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer called it “an affront to parliamentary democracy.”
The withdrawal bill will now pass through committee stage in the House of Commons, where suggested amendments will be debated and given to the government.
The House of Lords report suggests that committees in the Commons and the Lords should be given 10 days to investigate a minister’s proposed amendment to law and also the ability to overturn it and cause it to require full parliamentary scrutiny and a vote.
This is an “affirmative procedure” where a statutory instrument is scrutinised before being passed, as opposed to a “negative procedure” where a statutory instrument is assumed to be acceptable unless action is taken against it.
Lord Blencathra, the chair of the committee, said the legislation “seeks to confer on ministers an extensive range of powers, unique in peace-time.”
She added: “We have put forward what we think is a sensible proposal which will enable the government to use secondary legislation to implement the decision to withdraw from the EU whilst ensuring that it is Parliament – not the government – which decides the level of scrutiny applied to that legislation.”
The report also says: “The Government should bring forward separate Bills to confer on the devolved institutions competencies repatriated from the EU. It is inappropriate for an issue of such constitutional importance to be left to secondary legislation.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said it was right that the report had been published before the bill had made it to the House of Lords.
He said: “This is a thoroughly bad bill which not only gives ‘excessively wide law-making powers to ministers’ but also makes a mockery of claims that parliament is taking back control of our laws.
“This Bill puts control firmly in the hands of the ministerial team and leaves parliamentarians as un-favoured subs gaining splinters on the scrutiny bench.”