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Scotland: European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 14 June 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“I would like to make a Statement on the operation of the Sewel convention and its application to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in relation to Scotland. Mr Speaker, these are serious times and serious issues. I have come to the House today with respect and ready for constructive debate, and I hope that is the spirit of all sides.

Lord Sewel set out a commitment in 1998 that there should be a parliamentary convention to recognise that when the UK Parliament legislated in a devolved area it would,

‘not normally legislate without the consent of the Scottish Parliament’.

Throughout the passage of this Bill, the Government have demonstrated their commitment to the Sewel convention and the principles that underpin our constitution. We have followed the spirit and the letter of the devolution settlement at every stage.

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is about ensuring that the whole of the United Kingdom has a functioning statute book on exit day. It is about providing legal certainty to businesses and individuals up and down the country. From the outset we have been clear that, as a result of the UK’s exit, we would expect to see a significant increase in the decision-making powers of the devolved institutions. We have made it clear that exit would provide the opportunity to bring powers home from Brussels, not just to the UK Parliament, but to all of the legislatures of the United Kingdom. We must remember that the powers in question were handed to the European Union through our membership in 1972, long before devolution existed in Scotland. Exit was neither anticipated nor provided for in the Scotland Act or the structure of the devolution settlement. So it is certainly fair to say, as Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s own Brexit Minister has said, that these are not normal times.

Nevertheless, we have sought to respect the devolution settlements at every turn and recognised the strength of feeling across this House, as well as within the devolved Administrations, that the original measures set out in the Bill did not meet aspirations. No one could deny this Government have come a long way from that original position. Discussions have been conducted at multilateral level through the JMC (EN) and the JMC (P) chaired by the Prime Minister, bilaterally between Administrations, and extensive official level engagement—and we have made significant changes to the Bill. These changes enabled the Welsh Labour Government to gain approval, and to gain approval of the other place.

These changes have seen the original clause turned on its head. Now, all decision-making powers returning from the EU that intersect with devolved competence will pass directly to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, unless explicit steps are taken to temporarily preserve an existing EU framework. The intergovernmental agreement underpinning the new clause set out how those steps should be taken, with an emphasis on collaboration and agreement. Together, this means we are emphatically delivering on our commitment to give significant further powers to the Scottish Parliament. The clause also provides in certain limited cases that the current arrangements we have under the EU will remain until we have implemented our new UK-wide frameworks. I want to stress that we have already agreed with the Scottish and Welsh Governments where this temporary preservation needs to be considered. The Governments are agreed that ‘freezing’ areas is likely in just 24 of the 153 areas of powers returning to the UK from the EU.

To anyone who has sought to present this as seeking to take back powers that the Scottish Parliament already has, I repeat again here that the Bill includes a specific provision that makes it clear explicitly that no decision-making powers currently exercised by the Scottish Parliament can be taken away. These amendments strike the right balance between ensuring that exit results in increased decision-making powers for the devolved legislatures, while continuing to provide certainty about how our laws will operate and protecting our internal market, a market so vital to Scotland’s businesses.

These amendments do not, and cannot, go as far as the Scottish Government want, because the Scottish Government want a veto over arrangements that will apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, the former Deputy First Minister of Scotland set out when the Bill was being debated in the other place, that was not part of the original devolution settlement.

Our approach also helps to ensure the continued integrity of the UK internal market, which is so vital to people and businesses in Scotland. At every stage, the SNP has disregarded the need to preserve this market and ensure that there are no new barriers to working or doing business in the United Kingdom. The UK internal market is worth over four times more to businesses in Scotland than is EU trade, and we must make sure that it is preserved as we leave the EU.

We have reached a point now where, as the Welsh Labour Government have stated clearly, these arrangements reflect and respect how the devolution settlements operate. The devolved legislatures will have a formal role in considering where existing frameworks need to be temporarily preserved. That is what we have delivered. However, Scotland has two democratically elected Parliaments, and it is only this Parliament, the United Kingdom Parliament, that can speak for the United Kingdom as a whole. It is deeply regrettable that the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and her Government were unable to sign up to the compromise solution brokered by her and our officials and the officials from all the Administrations working together. However, as we all know, you can only reach agreement in a negotiation if both sides actually want to reach agreement.

The Scottish Government’s position from the outset was that they would be content with nothing less than a veto. However, such an unreasonable position would fundamentally undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom internal market. This would harm business in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Despite the numerous attempts to find compromise, and the fact one was reached with the Welsh Government, the SNP position has not changed. As a result, this Government, who represent the whole of the United Kingdom, could not responsibly accept their position.

We are now therefore faced with the reality that the Scottish Parliament has not given consent for this critically important legislation that provides certainty across the United Kingdom. This is not a situation any of us would have chosen. It is not, however, a crisis; nor is it unforeseen. While the devolution settlements did not predict EU exit, they did explicitly provide that, in situations of disagreement, the United Kingdom Parliament may be required to legislate without the consent of the devolved legislatures. In any situation, agreement is our aim, and we will continue to seek legislative consent, take on board views, and work with the Scottish Government on future legislation just as we always have done.

We on this side of the House have compromised. We have made every effort to reach agreement, and we have sought consent. Now we are legislating in line with the Sewel convention to ensure that the whole of the United Kingdom leaves the EU with as much legal certainty as possible. That is what the people and businesses in Scotland need”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. This House debated the vital issues of devolution over a number of hours and days during the passage of the EU withdrawal Bill. I pay tribute to noble Lords on all sides of the House for interrogating the Government on the issues with care and a wealth of knowledge. This House agreed a package of amendments to be sent back to the other place for their careful consideration. It is, frankly, remarkable that the Government provided less than 20 minutes for the elected House to debate the proposals in front of them on issues as fundamental to the union as devolution and the future of the Northern Irish border.

When this House gave the Bill its Third Reading, we expressed our regret at the absence of a legislative consent Motion from the Scottish Parliament and our hope that the UK Government would convene cross-party talks with the Welsh and Scottish Governments to look at ways forward. We are informed that requests for such talks, including by the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, have been declined. This is, at the very least, disappointing.

The Government did not give enough thought to devolution in their drafting of the Bill, as in many other areas, and brought forward a flawed piece of legislation. The Government’s own Ministers conceded this point. A great deal of time and debate went into trying to address problems which are in part of the Government’s own making. It is unreasonable, at the next stage of that process, to claim that there is no time left for the other place to have a full debate on the new Clause 11 that it was promised.

We have repeatedly asked the Government to think more carefully about the devolution settlements, and the place they have in upholding our union and shaping the future of the Brexit negotiations. Are the Government actively considering Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition’s calls for the Joint Ministerial Committee to be put on a statutory footing, and have the minutes of its meetings published? We have a situation and there has to be a discussion, agreement and consensus, and I hope that the Minister can provide some hope in that quarter.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I am not sure whether to thank him for the name check, which was a fairly broad interpretation of a somewhat more complex legal point. However, clearly, the Statement was made in the other place in response to the failure to have an adequate debate on the Lords amendments and following on, too, from the stunt of the SNP walking out yesterday. However, anyone with even a limited knowledge of Scottish politics knows that the SNP is a grand master at cranking up the grievance machine. Can the Minister therefore say why the Government gave them a gift-wrapped grievance to exploit?

We must also ask about the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Let us recall that he promised the House of Commons that amendments to Clause 11—which was, by that stage, completely discredited—would be tabled in the House of Commons on Report. That did not happen. I think there was some forbearance, when the Bill came to this House, because we took the view that, if time was needed to get these amendments right, then time should be taken. Indeed, we had good debates in Committee and on Report and even some further debate at Third Reading. But that was done on the expectation that Scotland’s elected Members, not just the SNP Members but those from the Conservative Party, Labour Party and Liberal Democrats—and indeed Welsh and Northern Ireland Members, because it affects their constituents too—would have a proper and adequate opportunity to look at these amendments. They are a total recasting of the devolved situation post Brexit and the Government must really answer why they did not arrange the timetable in such a way as to allow that to happen. We are entitled to ask whether the Secretary of State for Scotland made representations for the timetable to be arranged in such a way for there to be adequate debate. If he did not, he was derelict in his duty and, if he did, I ask the Minister what conclusions can we draw about the weight he carries within government in as much as these representations were overlooked?

If one goes to the substance of the Statement, it says that:

“While the devolution settlements did not predict EU exit, they did explicitly provide that, in situations of disagreement, the United Kingdom Parliament may be required to legislate without the consent of the devolved legislatures”.

It is of course the case that, legally, Section 28(7) of the Scotland Act 1998,

“does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland”.

That is a statement of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament. Section 28(8) goes on to state:

“But it is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.

As the Supreme Court found in the Miller case, it is a convention and, therefore, it is a perfectly legal position that the United Kingdom Parliament can legislate. Can the Minister indicate—it may be that he has not had time to look back at exactly what Lord Sewel said—whether Lord Sewel explicitly said, as was claimed in the Statement, that in some way this would be used as a form of dispute or disagreement resolution? I would quite like to know where this explicit reference to that came from.

We know that this particular Bill is a forerunner to agreeing frameworks. The principles of the frameworks for the United Kingdom were agreed by all parties at the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations back in October. Can the Minister indicate what steps have been taken to put some meat on to the frame of these frameworks? Has the position that has been taken by the Scottish Government—indeed the Scottish Parliament—in any way hampered these discussions in recent weeks, both at official level and at ministerial level?

For my final point I just return to the issue of dispute resolution because, if we are going down the road towards UK frameworks, it is important that we have a better form of dispute resolution than taking the sledgehammer to what has happened in the meantime. We want to know what thought has been given by the United Kingdom Government, in discussion with the devolved Administrations, to ensure that there is far better dispute resolution than we have had to date.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for beginning what I think is a very necessary discussion on the functioning of the Sewel convention. If I may—to go in reverse order—I will address the question of the frameworks themselves and their functionality, because I think this is where we need to focus our attention. These have been the subject of extensive engagement at an official level. If we add up the number of hours that have now been spent with officials examining each of those frameworks, we are in excess of 100 hours of meetings specifically to look at the functioning of the frameworks themselves. A phrase that comes to mind is: “officials are smiling on it”, which we always widely interpret as things are going quite well—but officials smiling is not the same as Ministers themselves signing it off. One challenge that we have often had is that what appeared to be agreement at the level of the officials—where examination on the detail of the frameworks themselves appeared to be reaching consensus and agreement—did not always match and meet the next step of making sure that Ministers themselves were able to sign that off. That has been one of the greater challenges that we have experienced because, again, this is without precedent. We are trying to establish how we can repatriate laws that we have not had functional control over, and trying to do so within a devolved framework, which of course did not exist when those laws were first moved from the United Kingdom Parliament across to Brussels.

In terms of the events in the other place, time was given, but it might be argued that time was misspent. A great deal of time was spent on a number of elements in discussion, thereby precluding serious engagement on these specific aspects. There needs to be some soul-searching across a number of parties as to how it ended up that way. I do not think that we in this place—or indeed those in the other place—can legitimately say that there has not been substantive engagement on the devolved clauses, Clauses 11 and 15, on many different occasions, both here and through the various forums that exist for officials and for Ministers to examine them. There has been, I suspect, on this clause alone, more correspondence, engagement and meetings to try to bring about the necessary agreement. Clearly, we were able to secure that agreement with the Welsh Administration but not with the Scottish Administration.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, raised the point that my right honourable friend in the other place said that he would bring agreed amendments on Report, but the key part is “agreed”. In order to achieve that, the two sides had to reach agreement. It was not for want of effort that that agreement was not found. The reality is very simple: if you are unwilling to accept that there needs to be some form of concessions to seek that agreement, then you are simply not going to get it. At each stage when we thought that we had moved far enough to change the structure of the clause in such a way that we would be able to get support, we found that the goalposts had shifted slightly further away from us. Clearly, we were able to deliver the support of the Welsh Government, but we were never able to secure the support of the Scottish Government. Even though the officials—and indeed certain Ministers in the Scottish Government—believed that we had made enough progress, unfortunately, when it came to the final sign-off, that was simply not the case.

I take the point from the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, about the JMC and how it shall work. There are examinations now about how we shall create structures that will necessarily address the changing environment and changing reality. How that will evolve is yet to be determined, but I take on board the points that he has made; it is useful for us to be part of that engagement. There will need to be cross-party engagement on the functionality of what, in effect, is a new constitutional arrangement—one that we are still writing. That is part of the challenge that we are living through right now; we have not yet signed off the final chapter of what this will look like. It is therefore quite difficult, in one respect, to determine exactly how we, as the Government, shall address that—my word, that is very unusual handwriting on the note just passed to me; I will read and speak to it momentarily, but not right now.

To conclude my remarks on this particular point, the important thing is that the show is not over. We are trying, and continue to try, to deliver the outcome that is right, but there needs to be an acceptance of agreement, which has to be based upon at least some acceptance of a concession. At the moment, the Scottish Government’s view on this is so didactic, specific and unmoving that, in essence, we are placed in the invidious position right now of taking a journey that we did not set out to take but which is facilitated within the law. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, has said, the Sewel convention does allow for this particular approach under not normal circumstances. We do not want to be taking this journey at all, but we are and we must, because the key thing is that, on day one after Brexit, the statute book must work, not just here in London but in Edinburgh, in Belfast and in Cardiff.

My Lords, might I begin by saying to my noble friend the Minister, “I told you so” that, when the then Scotland Bill said that the Government would “not normally legislate”, it would become a future source of dispute? We should not be surprised that it is being used in this way by nationalists who wish to break up the United Kingdom. Having said that, I congratulate my noble friend on the efforts that were made—which satisfied the Welsh Government but not the Scottish nationalists—in order to deal with this difficult issue. But how can we take seriously Scottish nationalists whose position is that the powers should remain in Brussels, when they say that it will be a power grab when those powers come back to the United Kingdom and in turn will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament? Indeed, when all the SNP MPs walked out of the Chamber of the House of Commons yesterday, it was symbolic. Their position is that their Members in the House of Commons should have no say on agriculture, environment, fishing and other matters, while the Government, by leaving the European Union, are creating that opportunity for Scotland to have its proper say and to maintain the United Kingdom single market.

Will my noble friend therefore perhaps get a bit on the front foot, and instead of apologising for the difficulties that have been created, make it clear to the country that what is going on here is a stunt by people who wish to break up the United Kingdom and turn everything into a constitutional crisis? In their desire to have more legislation, it might be pointed out how little legislation has gone through the Scottish Parliament. Indeed, the most recent legislation has been illegal, or certainly ultra vires, as determined by their own Presiding Officer.

What happened in the House of Commons yesterday was a stunt which was not in Britain’s or Scotland’s interest, and it was certainly not in the interests of those farmers and fishermen in Scotland who wish to have a say in how their own affairs are treated in the future through their Scottish Parliament in this United Kingdom Parliament.

I thank my noble friend Lord Forsyth. It is fair to say that he can to a certain extent legitimately say, “I told you so”, and he forewarned that this would be an outcome. None the less, the Government did all they could, trying in every possible way to secure agreement with the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

The walkout yesterday was—daft. That is the word. It was a situation in which four SNP MPs had questions to the Prime Minister and they decided that they would walk out and not ask them. One of the poor souls had been trying since 2015 to put a question to the Prime Minister, and he walked out. It may take another three years or he may never put another question to the Prime Minister, and if you are to try to hold a Government to account, that is your opportunity to do it. At the selfsame time, it looks as if the Speaker of the other place was ready to have a debate on the very issues which the Scottish National Party was so aggrieved by, but of course that did not happen, because the members of the SNP were hotfooting it out to the television cameras to say how disgraceful it was that they were in that situation. It is regrettable and it was unhelpful to their own cause. I believe that we should have as much discussion as is required on the issues to ensure that nobody feels that they are being silenced, quietened or ignored. However, there are conventions in the other place which would have allowed for that discussion to take place, but they were squandered by individuals who perhaps did not believe that those opportunities were adequate for them and their purposes.

I accept the points raised by my noble friend about the powers themselves. It is difficult to reconcile the views of the Scottish National Party; it believes that Brussels can retain all the powers, but even if there is the slightest hint that the United Kingdom could in any way have any touch of these powers, that is somehow bonkers. The sanity of that is questionable—but perhaps that is not for me to question.

May I say that it is unhelpful for the Minister to use language such as “bonkers”, “daft” and so on, as was the tone of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth? There is a problem to be addressed. The use of the word “veto” is also unhelpful. That suggests that the ultimate conclusion should be that one of the four entities that make up the United Kingdom should be able to block the other three. Can the Minister say whether any thought has been given to qualified majority voting on issues in setting up the framework? I would have thought that the people of Scotland would, even if they did not welcome it, be prepared to consider a proposal that had the support of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For example, if it were 3:1, perhaps the Scottish people would feel that their views would be overruled by a majority. However, the problem at the base of it all is that Scotland and Wales, even though they have agreed to the settlement, and Northern Ireland, fear that they will be overruled by English interests.

I know that Wales was happy to be within the EU frameworks because they applied across the whole of Europe to all the EU countries. Therefore there was a certain parity, without the domination of English interests over Welsh or Scottish interests at that time. But when you bring it all back to the United Kingdom and consider that the United Kingdom Parliament is also the English Parliament, there is concern and fear to be addressed.

I suggest to the Minister that instead of using emotive language, even though he is supported by members of his own party, he should approach the issue much more calmly and seek a mechanism that would be acceptable. If, ultimately, other mechanisms are simply dismissed by the Scottish Government, perhaps the Sewel convention can come to the Government’s aid and they can pass this legislation without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. But they are building up trouble, not merely by going ahead with this Bill without the consent of the Scottish Parliament but by using the language like “veto”, “daft” and “silly” that is being used on the Conservative Benches. I urge the Minister to be more temperate in his use of language.

I thank the noble Lord for his words of advice, but Scots are renowned for telling it like it is, and I assure him that I moderated my language a great deal when I chose those words. What I saw yesterday was scandalous, and I think anyone who saw it would agree. It was a dereliction of a democratic role. That level of theatrics may play its part—I do not doubt that—but there are other things that should be done in the other place.

On qualified majority voting, in the United Kingdom we have a degree of asymmetry. Attempts were made by the other party to address this through regional assemblies within England, but that was simply not supported by the public will. It is not easy to accept in such a small island archipelago such as we are, where one nation is so dominant in terms of population, that we should somehow simply divide the land into four parts and pretend that each is equal and should be considered as such. That would not be easily done. I do not think that the Government today are ruling anything out, but we have to be realistic—something else the Scots are renowned for.

My Lords, if no one else is rising to speak—we still have 12 minutes—I will ask a question. The Minister said in response to the questions I raised that time was taken up by Divisions, but can he confirm as a matter of fact that the Government could have arranged the timetable, given that it happened over two days, so that the issues on what became Clause 15 were taken first and were not truncated in the way they were? It is also part of the Government’s own timetable that time for Divisions is taken account of. Can the Minister confirm that it was a matter of the Government’s own judgment that they did not put this item in a place where it could be properly debated?

I thank the noble and learned Lord for that point. I can confirm that the Government could have adjusted it, had they been minded to do so. However, the problem was that they did not anticipate what happened as the votes began to dominate and consume the speaking time. Part of the dilemma that was faced was therefore that by the time this was recognised, the time itself had elapsed. I do not doubt that yesterday, had the Scottish National Party not left the building and had lodged their request for a debate, there would have been a debate on that very point to allow each of these issues to be aired adequately.

My Lords, as Front-Benchers are apparently allowed to use Back-Bench time, and as there does not seem to be anyone else who wants to speak, perhaps I may ask my noble friend to elaborate on the efforts made by the Government to get the Scottish nationalists on side. Would he like to comment on the press reports which suggested that the negotiators on behalf of the SNP had pretty well crossed the line but when they went back to Scotland they were told by the First Minister in no uncertain terms that this was not acceptable? Does that not underline what is going on here, which is that the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, faced with declining popularity in the opinion polls and declining support for an independence referendum, and faced with a party that thinks there should be another referendum next week, is basically trying to create a grievance and a row to stir up support? Does my noble friend agree that the Scots people are wise enough to realise how much of their economy depends on the single market of the United Kingdom and that they will have no truck with this kind of divisive behaviour on the part of the Scottish nationalists?

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, suggested that we should use moderate language. If you are faced with people who wish to destroy your country and the economy in Scotland, which is where I live, you do not moderate your language; you speak up for the majority, whose livelihood depends on that economy. In short, will my noble friend tell the House just how unreasonable the SNP has been? Does he agree that it was never going to agree because it wanted this as a source of grievance for its wider agenda?

I was told before I arrived in this House that we did not really do politics, but perhaps we do in this instance. I shall try to find the right way to address those very trenchant points. A number of hours were spent trying to bring about a quite challenging change—taking the devolution clause as constructed and literally inverting it. I do not think that the United Kingdom Government have had enough credit for doing something unusual, which was to take their own proposal and, before it was too old, turn it around to try to find that compromise. They did a great deal of work. The officials of all the Administrations worked tirelessly to produce what ultimately was enough to satisfy the Welsh Government. Indeed, when the Welsh Minister responsible left London at that moment, he believed he was taking back views which he could get signed off by the First Minister of Wales. It was anticipated that the Scottish Minister was doing exactly the same thing, but that was not to be.

The term “grand masters of grievance” used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, perhaps has a certain currency. It is important here that during these difficult times we do everything we can to ensure that there is safety first—making sure that our laws work and that the laws that keep Scots within a union that functions well for them work immediately after Brexit. That is what we are trying to deliver. However, it is not wholly clear right now what the Scottish Government are trying to achieve. They are content to have the EU administer in all these areas but they are in no way content to allow even a temporary freeze to determine how a UK framework can be created to allow the same responsibilities and roles to be undertaken by the United Kingdom Government. They seem to be slightly unwilling to accept that the UK Government have any role at all in the governance of the United Kingdom, and that is an unusual position to be in.

My Lords, perhaps as a Welshman I may step outside the Scottish matrix just for a moment. Certainly the laborious process that produced the intergovernmental agreement and the tireless work of officials in securing that agreement has been well alluded to and needs to be repeated from this angle, too. However, the mechanisms that were evolved to take this whole matter forward have not yet been referred to in this debate. Let us remember that we have found methods of dealing with 129 out of 153 of the contentious areas, or the areas where there will need to be a joint approach to problem solving, and that work is going on.

The remaining 24 were, at this stage, considered to need more work on them. It was anticipated that that work would take place within these frameworks, and, as I recall, a modus agendi has been incorporated into the way that those talks and areas of discussion will take place. It will not be a case of matters being brought to an institution that has both English and British dimensions to it; within those mechanisms small numbers of people will represent the issues one at a time for each of the devolved areas. It is hoped that with those small groups agreements can be reached and ultimately brought to our Parliament. If agreement is not reached, a Statement has to be made to the House which will be debated and decided upon at that stage.

It seems to me that everything that could have been done in areas where we have no precedent to appeal to has been done. Certainly that was the opinion of the Welsh negotiators—I was with the First Minister of Wales this morning and that is certainly his position. We went back to Cardiff feeling that this was an honourable thing. The gloves were off, although of course we did not use the word “daft”. In Wales we would not do that, as we are a temperate nation. We reserve fisticuffs for the rugby field, where due justice is given to the Scots and the English in turn. However, there are mechanisms for solving these problems. They are part of the agreements that have been reached and they now deserve to be given a chance to work.

I thank the noble Lord, who was very helpful, very constructive and very sensible. He is absolutely right that the discussions were honourable, and the gentlemen who left those rooms believed that they carried with them agreement on issues that would resolve the very things that we are discussing.

I should also make reference to the officials from Northern Ireland, who have taken on a role far beyond their expectations and beyond what, one might argue, could sensibly be asked of them. They have done so with an extraordinary commitment, which has been very welcome in those discussions.

The frameworks will be as described and they will need to function. A lot of assertions were made. Some newspapers that I read suggest that the Scottish Government will be unable to do anything at all in the area of agriculture for seven years. But that is not even close to being accurate, and this is a time for avoiding—to use temperate language—fake news. We should be able to get to the stage where we discuss things as they are.

In those self-same groups, there will be serious discussions about the functionality of the frameworks, but we should bear in mind that the frameworks now function within an EU context. How then will they be translated, tailored, trimmed and made more effective and more efficient in a UK context? Whether it is food labelling or pesticides—issues which, by their nature, are traditionally not particularly controversial—these things will be debated and will, I hope, result in the delivery of an approach that works for everybody in the United Kingdom. That is the key thing: ensuring that everyone in the United Kingdom emerges from Brexit in a fashion that gives them opportunities to develop without risk.

My Lords, I rise for two reasons. First, there is every danger that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will intervene again if any time is left. Secondly, I put to the Minister a saying that was beloved of an old mentor of mine, Joe Gormley of the miners’ union. He said, “Don’t build platforms for malcontents to stand on”—but I fear that that is exactly what the Government are doing. It has been mentioned a couple of times that there were cleverer ways of doing this than the way used by the Government. If we are to get through this properly, they have to avoid the elephant traps which those who have no wish to see this union preserved will put in their way.

I am still within the time limit and I think that the Minister will have time to answer, so he should take no notice of those sitting to his left. I will leave him with one thought that worries me. It is the Conservative and Unionist Party that is overseeing the greatest threat to this union—and that should give some pause for thought.

It seems I have a wee bit of time to answer. The one thing that I will note is that it is always disturbing to go into negotiations to which people have brought with them elephant traps. You would rather hope they were going into them in a much more evolved and sensitive manner to try to reach some sort of consensus. Anybody going into negotiations packing an elephant trap is probably not there for the healthiest of outcomes. I think we have managed thus far to try as best we can to deliver an outcome that will work—indeed, we have done so for Wales. I think we did so for Scotland, too: it is the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Government who decided that that was not the case.