First Brexit bill under scrutiny confers ‘inappropriately broad powers’ on ministers

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today warned that the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, the first Brexit bill to be scrutinised by the House of Lords, contains inappropriately broad powers for ministers.

The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill is intended to provide a new, long-term legal basis for ministers to make secondary legislation concerning sanctions, money laundering and terrorist financing. The bill is expected to begin committee stage in the House of Lords on Tuesday 21 November.

The Constitution Committee’s scrutiny of the bill includes: ministerial powers – the bill creates a broad Henry VIII power authorising ministers to make ‘sanctions regulations’ and allows new forms of sanctions to be created by secondary legislation. The committee said that it is not appropriate for ministers to have such broad powers.

Scrutiny – the committee said that it is essential that the bill provides sufficient safeguards and parliamentary scrutiny procedures to make the new sanctions powers constitutionally acceptable.

Legal certainty – individuals subject to sanctions under the bill have no right to know the reasons for the sanctions until their appeal against them reaches the courts. The committee said that this prevents them from preparing their case, undermining common law principles and procedural fairness.

Criminal offences – the bill allows ministers to create criminal offences punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, while also setting the rules on evidence consideration and defence to those offences. The committee said that it is deeply concerned by this power.

Chairman of the committee Baroness Taylor of Bolton said: “The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill grants unduly broad powers to ministers and establishes sanctions regimes that will be subject to less scrutiny and challenge than those that exist at present.

“The bill is the first piece of Brexit legislation to be scrutinised by the House of Lords. The government should not use the transfer of laws from the EU to the UK as an opportunity to increase its own power, reduce scrutiny, or weaken individuals’ rights.”