House of Lords
Wednesday 18 November 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Death of a Member: Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, on Saturday 14 November. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points, and I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Asylum Seekers: Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports about the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers at the border of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; and what representations they plan to make to the government of Croatia about such reports.
My Lords, we regularly engage with Croatia, its neighbours and other international partners on challenges posed by irregular and illegal migration. We are committed to the principle that asylum seekers are entitled to decent, humane and fair treatment. We remain concerned about allegations of mistreatment of people at the border. Our embassy in Zagreb has raised these allegations with senior representatives and the offices of the president and the Government, highlighting the recommendation of the Croatian ombudswoman for an independent investigation.
I thank my noble friend for his Answer. It is appalling to see migrants shifted like cattle from Italy to Slovenia to Croatia, where alleged systemic violence and abuse by the Croatian border police eventually pushes them out of the EU into Bosnia. It is a vital national interest to work with the EU member states to ensure that migrants and asylum seekers are treated humanely, but, most of all, to address the root causes of the migration crisis. With that in mind, does my noble friend agree that it would be utterly counterproductive to water down our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on development assistance? If other countries follow the UK’s example, we could see a race to the bottom in reducing development aid that will lead only to more desperate refugees on the move and more illegal migration.
My noble friend was absolutely right to set out at the beginning that people must be treated as human beings and with respect and dignity at all stages; that is something that Her Majesty’s Government reinforce forcefully. On her point about aid, we are also very generous. We have provided £500,000 through our own Conflict, Stability and Security Fund to support communities and authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina hosting migrants and refugees.
My Lords, the Minister has referred to the abuses of refugees and migrants on the Croatian border. Will the Government make representations to the European Commission, which has been using a small fund to keep under surveillance abuses at the border—a fund to which we contributed when we were a member of the EU? Will we please raise this issue internationally, as widely as possible? These abuses are quite shocking.
Yes, my Lords, we make these representations both bilaterally with the countries involved and through multilateral organisations—not just the EU but the International Organization for Migration, the UNHCR and other fora. The European Commission and the European Parliament are both taking an increasingly involved approach to this issue, which is welcome. Indeed, as part of the Croatian EU presidency in the first half of this year, there was a ministerial conference on the challenges of illegal migration, which is important in this regard.
Surely these appalling allegations show that the flow of illegal immigration across the European continent is certainly not good for the migrants concerned, nor the countries through which they pass. Does my noble friend agree that it shows the wisdom of the Government’s policy of seeking to deter and discourage such illegal movement in the first place and trying to deal with the problem closer to home?
My noble friend is entirely right. That is why Her Majesty’s Government have a whole-of-route approach, working, as he says, to deter people from making these dangerous and unnecessary journeys in the first place, and making sure that our protection is targeted at those people who most need it in areas of conflict.
My Lords, what assistance, including protection against violence and family planning, is being provided for women and girls, who are particularly vulnerable in these circumstances? Will the UK have access to EU information on human traffickers who exploit such migrants after 31 December?
My Lords, we work with the UNFPA and the International Organization for Migration on just these issues, and we have seen some positive results from that work. Our aid is now helping 55 public health centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and more than 600 service providers, decision-makers and leaders from civil society.
My Lords, could my noble friend inform the House of the Government’s understanding of the Bosnian Government’s capability and capacity to support migrants who have been turned into a political football by Italy, Slovenia and Croatia? What impact is such behaviour by EU states breaching their legal obligations towards refugees having on the political stability of Bosnia-Herzegovina?
My noble friend is right—as I said, we want people to be treated with the respect and dignity that should be accorded to our fellow humans, not as political footballs, as she says. Along with our other international partners, the UK has urged Bosnian politicians to work together to address these challenges. We are working with the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, providing £500,000 of aid through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, and engaging at all levels, including with the Minister of Security in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
My Lords, what additional endeavour can we apply to win the peace by creating an environment so as to stem the flow of those in need, given that much of the inward immigrant flow is as a direct—and indirect, in the case of sanctions—consequence of western intervention? In addressing the question in hand, should the UK lead by example by not being overly critical of the humanitarian challenges at the Croatia-Bosnia-Herzegovina border when we draw censure in reacting to the situation in the channel?
My Lords, the noble Viscount is right: we need to address these problems at source. That is why schemes such as our vulnerable persons relocation scheme are working in areas of conflict to try to make sure that our help and protection is offered to those who need it, and to deter people from making dangerous journeys, whether that is across the European continent or, as he says, across the English Channel.
My Lords, can I return to the issue that the Minister raised in his original response, about an independent assessment of these claims? The UNCHR is backing this. In raising this with the Croatian Government, what sort of response have the Government received and how are we pursuing this matter?
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to talk about the work of the UN special rapporteurs, which followed the arrest of two Croatian police officers this summer. The UN has urged the country to immediately and thoroughly investigate these allegations, and we have been impressing this on the Croatian authorities at every level as well, to reinforce that important point.
My Lords, in 2016, Amnesty International found that the British people were the second most welcoming of refugees in the world, with 83% saying they would welcome them in their household and neighbourhood. Does the Minister think the British people are deeply concerned about reports of the abuses on the Croatia-Bosnia-Herzegovina border? Does he not think that people want the Government to do more to secure safe, orderly routes for some of these refugees to come to the UK?
My Lords, yes, I think the British people do take great concern at the reports we have seen, and we have seen that in questions from all corners of your Lordships’ House today. This is a matter of human dignity. That is a point that Her Majesty’s Government are making to the Croatian Government and others, and we are working with international organisations to reinforce that.
My noble friend is entirely right, and I commend his work in this area. Our work in countering gender-based violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina and more widely has had a significant impact. We have seen positive improvements, for instance, in the collection of evidence, the protection of witnesses, providing safe spaces for people to testify and making sure that survivors and victims are treated with the respect that they deserve.
My Lords, across Europe, including in Britain, unaccompanied migrant children are being abused and trafficked, and are self-harming. A year ago, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe agreed that member states should ensure they provide effective care for unaccompanied children. British Ministers were at that meeting. Can the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to protect these children in the United Kingdom?
My Lords, we are working to ensure the safety and dignity of migrants of every age—we had discussions on asylum-seeking children as part of the immigration Bill, which we debated recently in your Lordships’ House—work that we are continuing on our own and through international organisations, such as those I have mentioned.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We now come to the second Oral Question.
In preparation for COP 26, the Cabinet Office set up a dedicated engagement team to facilitate engagement with businesses, wider civil society, cities and regions on COP 26. The brand, Together for Our Planet, was unveiled this month, marking the milestone of one year to COP 26. Many people from all over the UK are already doing their bit on climate change. The Together for Our Planet campaign will inspire more to join them.
I thank the Minister very much for that reply, but I would like to press a bit more for some details. Some 62% of the emission cuts needed to reach net zero require societal or behavioural change, so I would really like to know what areas this initiative will cover. Have the Government done any assessments of the areas likely to have the most impact? For example, will one of them be related to diet and, in particular, to a reduction of meat and dairy intake, which was recommended by the climate change committee? Of course, these are really ambitious proposals, which we are all very grateful for, but can the Minister tell me whether we have a big enough budget in order to deliver them over the course of the next 12 months?
The noble Baroness makes some valid points, but, as I am sure she is aware, all campaign spend will be released in line with the usual Cabinet Office spend data publications. The idea of the campaign is to work through partnerships where possible, but further support may be needed working with other groups, and we will endeavour to take the campaign forward in as many different areas as possible.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. Before your Lordships’ House is submerged in a tsunami of uncosted virtue signalling, can the Minister confirm that zero carbon will cost trillions of pounds? In the privacy of this Chamber, may I raise the politics of this? The further north you go, the cooler it is and the higher people’s heating bills are. People’s incomes are lower, so more is absorbed by energy costs and more jobs depend on energy. If they are less receptive to campaigns telling them to become vegetarians, ride bikes and forgo foreign holidays while being unable to sell their cars in 10 years’ time, will this help retain the blue-wall seats?
I thank my noble friend for his question; I know he takes a close interest in these matters. The important thing to do is to convince people across the country that there are an awful lot of jobs riding on this as well, and that pursuing green initiatives, as we are doing with the 10-point plan that was announced today, will enable thousands of jobs to be created in many of the communities that he is talking about.
My Lords, I am really pleased to hear that we are tying the green issue into the problems of today, with possibly 1.5 million people unemployed. I would like to see the Government grasp this moment and expand completely the green job market. That is the most practical thing we can do. The other practical thing we should do is convince most people that plastic and rubbish and the general environment that we live in need to be bought into by everybody, so we need much more vigorous education. We need schools to teach our children from the very beginning that we are in this perilous world, and it is all to do with nature. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that there are too many tick-boxing, simple things that do not really change people’s consciousness.
My Lords, will the Minister not accept that the Prime Minister’s new 10-point plan is not a plan but a wish list of future developments based on undeveloped technology? It is not new, because it is largely recycled commitments and resources. Will he confirm that the actual new, additional amount is £4 billion—not £12 billion—which does not begin to address the scale of the problem and does not bear comparison with our colleagues in France, Germany and elsewhere?
I am not sure that the noble Lord is being entirely fair with his critique of the announcement. Many of the initiatives are based on new and existing technologies. We are building on many of the initiatives that we already have going, for instance the green homes grants system, which is proving so successful and popular and is building on an existing scheme. I think that noble Lords in many parts of the House would accept that we should go further on things such as hydrogen and elsewhere.
My Lords, the catastrophes of climate change are already with us. We need urgent action and must pull all available levers to stop putting even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Will the Minister say why proven, here-today technologies, such as solar PV and onshore wind, have been ignored altogether in the 10-point plan?
Solar PV has made immense progress in this country and we are looking to see how we can build on that further. Onshore wind has, of course, been controversial in some cases, but with existing turbines it has proved to be successful. The main gains to be made, however, are through offshore wind, the costs of which have fallen dramatically.
My Lords, under the Paris Agreement, the nationally determined contributions outlining the UK’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have focused on announcements to end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030. However, can the Minister explain how the scatter-gun approach of the 10-point plan will lead to effective behavioural change without a comprehensive transport strategy within an overall energy White Paper—both of which have yet to be published?
Well, the energy White Paper is forthcoming shortly; the noble Lord will have to have a little bit of patience on that. I think we have a Private Notice Question on the 10-point plan tomorrow, so that might be a more appropriate time to debate these matters.
My Lords, in order to obtain behavioural change, people need to understand what the problem is and how it should be tackled. Is the Minister aware of the recent survey that showed that more than 50% of Britons still do not understand recycling labels, despite some of them having been in existence for nearly 40 years?
My Lords, Ban Ki-moon, then General Secretary of the UN, said that the Paris climate change talks were the largest and most complex talks he had ever been part of. Some 12,000 people were in the discussions, with another nearly 50,000 gathered around them. What steps are the Government taking to ratchet up the engagement of the faith communities and other NGOs around the climate change talks that will take place in Glasgow, and what steps are they taking to strengthen the diplomatic efforts to make the talks more successful?
My Lords, Article 12 of the Paris Agreement says that signatories must
“co-operate in taking measures … to enhance climate change education … public awareness … participation and … access to information”.
What action have the Government taken, in particular with the Department for Education, to fulfil this, and to ensure that all signatories will have acted on it before COP 26 in Glasgow later next year?
My Lords, the success of COP 26 is absolutely vital for the reputation of this country. One of the ways in which we could, perhaps, reinforce those efforts is by using parliamentarians to help get the message out, abroad and at home, of how important this conference is, and to help make it a success. We have almost 1,500 parliamentarians, but I do not see the Government trying to involve us. The majority of us believe that climate change is a crisis and that we need to solve it. How are parliamentarians going to be involved in the process of making COP 26 a success?
I am sorry if the noble Lord does not feel involved in the campaign, but parliamentarians, alongside members of the public, are all very welcome to get involved in all of these campaigns, because they require all of us to work together to achieve our aims.
My Lords, as the original Question said, at the root of this there is a need to change our behaviours. Can the Minister tell me more about the Government’s plans to help us spend more of our holidays within the United Kingdom, rather than flying abroad? Much of our hospitality infrastructure has been gathering dust, to put it mildly, over the past 50 years as people have got used to Mediterranean and further-afield holidays. I am sure that the Government could find constructive ways to rapidly improve the level of our domestic tourism offering and ways of promoting it to our people.
My noble friend is tempting me on to dangerous ground with this question. I agree with him that it would be great if more people took their holidays using some of the excellent facilities that are provided for in this country. Of course, however, people should also be free to go on foreign holidays if they wish to do so. One of the purposes of the plan is to see how we can spend more on areas such as decarbonising jet fuel so that aeroplanes in the future will not be so polluting. Hopefully, when we get to our ambitious targets, people will be able to take advantage of excellent holidays either in the UK or, if they wish to do so, abroad.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have now been asked and we shall now move on to the next Question.
Cross-Government Policy to Strengthen Families
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether a Cabinet-level minister has been appointed to coordinate cross-Government policy to strengthen families; and if so, (1) who is that minister, (2) when they were appointed, and (3) what policies they have coordinated to date.
My Lords, families have a critical role in caring for and educating their children. The right honourable Gavin Williamson has therefore been asked to drive forward family policy. He aims to use this role to protect vulnerable children and give children the best start in life. To work towards this, the Government have announced £2.5 million to research and develop best practice on how best to integrate family services and support vulnerable children.
I thank the Minister for her Answer and for its clarity. Our high levels of family breakdown require a strategic approach to strengthening families and therefore cross-government policy co-ordination. My review on strengthening female offenders’ family relationships required several departments to work together to implement recommendations. Co-ordination requires resource. The Cabinet-level family lead is modelled on the Equalities Minister. Will that family lead therefore have a dedicated budget and Civil Service team per the Government Equalities Office?
My Lords, the Government are grateful to my noble friend for his work in this area. He is of course correct that the Government’s policy on families requires co-ordination and resource. That is why the Prime Minister has entrusted the family policy brief to the Secretary of State for Education to reflect the need for cross-government collaboration on this issue. On resources, I reassure my noble friend that they are there from investment in free childcare and early education to the troubled families and reducing parental conflict programmes, and of course our commitment to the family hub model, where next month we will start the procurement for research and development of best practice on the integration of services for families.
A Question about the centrality of the family gives me my first opportunity in this House to pay tribute to my noble teacher, the extraordinary man and leader, Rabbi Lord Sacks. Zichrono livracha—may his memory be for a blessing. His death is a huge loss to us all. He wrote and spoke extensively on spiritual and family issues. Does the Minister agree with the sentiments written by Lord Sacks in his book Faith in The Future? He wrote:
“It is within the family that the three great ethical concerns arise: welfare, or the care of dependents; education, or the handing on of accumulated wisdom to the next generation; and ecology, or concern with the fate of the world after our own lifetime.”
I take the opportunity to agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend and indeed with those written by Lord Sacks. Indeed, as he said in another of his works:
“If we care about the common good, the cohesion of society and the support it gives to individuals, the family must be at the very heart of our concern.”
I associate myself with those remarks. If the late and much-missed Lord Sacks were here, he would have spoken out about the huge financial and emotional costs of family breakdown and the rising divorce rate reported this morning. We have a real crisis now of children and money amid fears that the system will collapse under the huge weight of cases and lack of legal aid. Will the Minister heed the recommendations of the Family Solutions Group report What About Me? It highlighted the need to reduce aggressive litigation over money after divorce, which it said harms children’s welfare, by progressing the reform of our financial provision law to make it focus on support for children, less expensive and in line with nearly every other European country.
My Lords, I will certainly go away and look at the findings of that report. Of course, the Government have introduced no-fault divorces to try to reduce conflict through that process and make it more constructive, particularly with regard to the position of children in those circumstances.
My Lords, as the much-lamented Lord Sacks would have said, family, as broadly defined, is the bedrock of society. Will the Minister say that all Ministries, particularly the Treasury in terms of fiscal policy, should be at the forefront of promoting families? Will the Government consider relevant initiatives, such as attaching a family impact assessment to each Bill?
My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly that support for family policy is a cross-government endeavour. I think the noble Lord will know that within government we have the family test, which is a resource that policymakers can use to ensure that the needs of families are considered at the heart of policy-making.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, referred to the state of crisis in many families, and that has been dramatically worsened for very many families during this year as a result of the Covid crisis. The Government’s reaction and policies on Covid have tended to rely on three pillars: medical, economic and educational policy. Is it not now time to put much more emphasis on social policy, and in particular on the health, welfare and well-being of families of all kinds and their members of all ages?
My Lords, the Government have put a huge amount of support into health policy during this crisis and policy to support the well-being of families. That has included additional support towards mental health, making sure that social services have the resources they need to continue their important work during this time and ensuring that both schools and early years settings have the resources they need to provide support to children and young people.
My Lords, I, too, endorse the comments made about the late Lord Sacks. What a wonderful man he was. Will the Minister say how the Government plan to help parents whose children’s development has been negatively impacted by the recent closure of nurseries and schools, as evidenced in Ofsted’s national inspection report?
My Lords, the key thing has been to keep vulnerable children and young people in school or to get them back to school if they did not go there during the first lockdown. We kept those settings open for children, and the vast majority of children are back, but we are encouraging schools to reach out to parents who have not returned their children and to provide them with reassurance if they have concerns. We have also provided the catch-up fund, worth £1 billion, to include tutoring for disadvantaged pupils and £9 million specifically towards improving the language skills of reception-age children who need the most support.
My Lords, the Minister may have seen research by Action for Children that was published in September and showed that the pandemic caused financial pressures on more than one-third of all families due to the associated additional household costs of having the whole family at home full time. The Government’s reluctant U-turn, which has produced the continuation of holiday activities and the food fund until May next year, was welcome. However, it was an admission that disadvantaged families indeed need additional support during school holidays. What assessment have the Government made of the number of families that were pushed further into poverty as the result of the Government’s determination not to give free school meals during the recent October half-term holiday—a decision I am absolutely certain Lord Sacks would not have approved of?
My Lords, as the noble Lord has recognised, the Government have taken action by introducing the Covid winter grant scheme for this winter holiday and then the holiday activities and food scheme. However, that is not the limit of the Government’s support to the most vulnerable families during the period of this pandemic. We have increased universal credit by £20 a week and the value of local housing allowance, which is £9 billion more welfare into the system. The analysis shows that those on the lowest incomes have received the most government help as a proportion of their incomes because that is where our concern lies during this pandemic.
My Lords, I can reassure the noble and learned Baroness that the Government are putting in place this kind of support. We have put in place the Wellbeing for Education Return programme, which is backed by £8 million to support staff working in schools and colleges when responding to the additional pressures some children and young people may be facing during the pandemic, including spending time at home, where conflict may have been higher. We know that parental conflict is difficult for all involved, and that is why the Department for Work and Pensions has a £2.7 million fund to increase support for disadvantaged families at risk of parental conflict.
My Lords, I regret that the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.
Covid-19: Conflicts of Interest
My Lords, in our nation’s time of need we have been very fortunate to call on the talents of many, including colleagues old and new, some paid and some unpaid. Appointments are considered on merit and, when required, we ask candidates to declare any interests. We assess these on a case-by-case basis, but declaring an interest is not always a barrier to being appointed. There are, however, robust processes in place to manage any conflict. These ensure that no one gains unfairly from advising the Government.
My Lords, can the Minister give a logical reason why a company with no history of supplying PPE that is introduced by a special adviser can be passed from a Minister’s office, be fast-tracked and be 10 times more successful in getting a contract to supply PPE—which sometimes cannot be used because it does not meet the standards—than a company with a solid track record of supplying PPE that has no access to a special adviser or Minister?
My Lords, we are enormously grateful for the very many people who stepped forward to offer help during this time. When the Prime Minister made his public call for help, 16,500 people contacted us with various offers. It was, of course, necessary to triage and prioritise that huge list. In that list there were a great many people who had extensive experience in their area; there were people who were new to the game; there were have-a-go heroes; there were multinational companies. There were also those whose intentions were not as pure as one would hope. We approached each and every one on their merit, and there were official guidelines to guide the procurement processes. We have stuck to those guidelines every step of the way.
Yesterday the Minister said that he had personally made 300 calls to potential suppliers of PPE earlier this year. Not surprisingly, given the report from the National Audit Office today, which the Daily Mail described as devastating, he did not tell us how the lucky recipients of all his calls were chosen. Could the Minister tell us whether one of those calls was to the jewellery designer Michael Saiger, based in Miami, who received more £200 million in contracts from the Minister’s department, paying £21 million to a Spanish fixer? How did Mr Saiger and his jewellery come to the attention of the department? Why were major British companies with well-established global supply chains, which offered to help, ignored?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for referring to my calls. I would have made a lot more than 300 calls then, because those were extremely difficult times. I would remind him that the NAO report says that we found Ministers had properly declared their interests, and we found no evidence of their involvement in procurement decisions or contract management. Ministers were not involved in procurement decisions; they facilitated the introduction of potential suppliers at a time when there was a massive global crisis. Supplies to this country were being abducted by other countries, supply chains had broken down, the channel tunnel was constrained and the Indian transport system had ground to a halt. Presidents were literally diverting planes in the air with supplies meant for one country and grabbing them for their own. In those circumstances, Ministers and their advisers intervened to get the right supplies to the front line to help those seeking PPE. Those were extremely energetic efforts. I am extremely proud of that work. Procurement decisions were left to civil servants.
My Lords, Ministers have many opportunities to meet a wide range of individuals and organisations in the course of their work, and they have to declare their interests. Is it the department’s HR department or its Ministers who are responsible for ensuring that spads understand both their role and their boundaries, and that they stay within them?
My Lords, there is a very clear code for special advisers. They have line management through the Secretary of State and often on to Downing Street. The role of spads during the pandemic has been exceptional. I pay tribute to the large number of spads who made a huge difference, and I am very proud of the work that they have done.
My Lords, I have a certain sense of déjà vu, since this is almost exactly the same question that was asked yesterday, so I will try not to be repetitive. I know my noble friend is, like me, grateful to those who came forward and freely, pro bono, gave their time, expertise and experience to assist in this terrible crisis. I know he will also, like me, share the view that some people are grubbing around, looking for any dirt they can sling that will deter good public-spirited people from coming forward in future. I have one specific question: could the Minister tell me how long, typically, a procurement process would last if you are looking to get PPE through the Civil Service procurement procedures?
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. I cannot tell him how long it would typically take but I can tell him that if everything went as smoothly as possible, 25 days is the absolute minimum that a procurement process could take. That is why, on 18 March, new guidelines for procurement were put in place. The PPE team converted those into a very diligent eight-step process, the effectiveness of which the NAO has paid tribute to. We have put in place exactly the kind of reasonable processes necessary to respond to a pandemic like this, resulting in the purchase of billions of items of PPE to protect those on the front line of our healthcare.
My Lords, I do not discount the many problems the Minister has talked about, but the displeasure—disgust, even—of the public often arises as a result of the National Audit Office uncovering information reactively, for example. What we need is a more proactive lookout for these problems, either in the Cabinet or the Cabinet Office. If the Minister says it is there, I would suggest that the National Audit Office is saying that it does not work very well.
My Lords, I am not sure that that is what the National Audit Office has said. It has, very reasonably, alighted on the importance of transparency and the declaration of interests, values that any reasonable Minister or public servant would subscribe to. The Cabinet Office itself has played a very energetic role during the entire pandemic, providing the systems, support and people, including contract staff, to make sure those values are upheld.
May I just say to the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, that we supported the Government having the emergency powers to allow them to act quickly but it is also important, even if people are giving their services for free, that they are held properly accountable.
It is rare to be able to return to a question that one feels was unanswered the day before. I asked the Minister if George Pascoe-Watson, the chair of the lobbying company Portland Communications, had signed a confidentiality agreement upon his appointment as a ministerial adviser. I would be grateful if the Minister could specifically answer that question: did George Pascoe-Watson sign a confidentiality agreement when he was appointed? Presumably, that is on the public record. Would the Minister also inform the House if he or any of his officials have had any contact, by any means of communication, with Mr Pascoe-Watson or anyone else at Portland Communications since the Sunday Times published its story online on Saturday evening?
My Lords, the very large number of advisers, both paid and unpaid, were all processed by the department and their paperwork was then handed on to the Cabinet Office for approval. George Pascoe-Watson, as others, was sent both a declaration of interest form, which he filled in and is on record, and a volunteer agreement, which has the Official Secrets Act built into it. His work was covered by that.
My Lords, could the Minister tell the House whether the Government’s anti-corruption champion, John Penrose MP, has been involved in looking at any conflicts of interest or whether he is in danger of having a conflict of interest himself?
My Lords, does my noble friend not accept that the arrival of battalions of advisers, both paid and unpaid, causes confusion within departments about the chain of command? Does he also agree that, as a general principle, the arrival of so many advisers in the Civil Service downgrades the role of the Permanent Secretary as the principal adviser to the Secretary of State?
The noble Lord asks a reasonable question about the management of staff in an epidemic such as this. He is right that these were extremely confusing times that put a huge amount of pressure on civil servants and all those who contributed to our response. I am enormously grateful to civil servants for their work, in particular Sir Chris Wormald, our Permanent Secretary—he played an absolute blinder and is one of the top civil servants of his class—and David Williams, the Second Permanent Secretary of our department. Both were absolutely fantastic.
I am grateful to all who stepped forward, not just at a senior level—from noble Lords who worked with us to people who worked at other levels of our response. It made a huge impact. The arrival of military advisers, consultants, volunteers and business advisers lifted the spirits of the whole organisation and brought with it networks of expertise and energy, which saw a huge amount of collaboration. When I hear a debate such as this and the tone that is sometimes represented in the Chamber, I do not recognise the incredible spirit of energy and collaboration that characterised our response to the pandemic. I cannot help repeating myself: it is something that I am extremely proud of.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. I apologise to the three noble Lords who were unable to ask their supplementary questions.
Continuity Trade Agreements: Parliamentary Scrutiny
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 17 November.
“In under two years, the UK Government have signed or agreed in principle trade agreements with 52 countries that account for £142 billion of UK bilateral trade. That accounts for 74% of the value of trade with non-European Union countries that we set out to secure agreements with at the start of the trade continuity programme. Since the transition period began, we have expanded the ambition of our programme above and beyond that original scope. In November we signed an enhanced deal with Japan, accounting for £30 billion of UK trade in 2019, and we expect to make significant progress in securing further deals before the end of the transition period. We believe that this is the largest set of parallel trade negotiations ever conducted by any country.
Parliamentary scrutiny is central to our continuity negotiations. All signed agreements would be subject to the statutory scrutiny process as set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, providing a guaranteed period for Parliament to scrutinise and debate these agreements. Indeed, Parliament has held debates on six of our signed continuity agreements, and not one of those debates has carried a negative resolution. Further, we have voluntarily published parliamentary reports alongside all continuity agreements, explaining any differences from the predecessor EU agreements. I am pleased to see that our approach to scrutiny was praised in a recent report by the House of Lords EU International Agreements Sub-Committee, Treaty Scrutiny: Working Practices.
As we approach the end of the transition period, it is possible that the scrutiny window for remaining agreements will extend beyond 1 January into the new year. That means that we may need to use provisional application for a short period, in order to guarantee continuity of trade relationships and avoid any cliff edges. I thank the right honourable lady for her two letters on the subject to the Secretary of State last week. Provisional application is a well-established and widely used mechanism to give effect to treaties while domestic ratification procedures continue in parallel. Many EU trade agreements were or are being provisionally applied, including the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada and the agreements with Ukraine and with the Caribbean Forum. I remind the right honourable lady that those EU agreements have already been comprehensively scrutinised at EU level and by this Parliament. In fact, the Government published a technical note in Parliament last year setting out our assessment of provisional application and the circumstances in which it might be used.
We will always take the time necessary to negotiate the right deals. Any agreement we sign must benefit British consumers and businesses, preserve our high food standards and protect the NHS, and they must share wealth across all our nations and regions as part of our levelling-up agenda. We look forward to submitting further continuity FTAs to Parliament for scrutiny once signed, and we welcome further debates on our independent trade policy.”
My Lords, in the Commons, the Minister stated that parliamentary scrutiny was central to the ongoing continuity FTA rollovers. That was good to hear. He also said that nearly half these treaties will be agreed under the provisional agreement mechanism, which excludes parliamentary debate before the FTA is implemented. That is not so good. We have the opportunity to put things right when the Trade Bill returns to your Lordships’ House in early December. Will the noble Lord the Minister agree to continue our discussions to see if we can formalise a protocol for scrutiny, building on his good work in ensuring that the International Agreements Sub-Committee of this House has the papers and information it needs to carry out its valuable work?
My Lords, I welcome the constructive exchanges which the noble Lord and I have had on this matter. We have a mutual interest in ensuring that Parliament is able to carry out its scrutiny processes effectively. I look forward to continuing our debate on this important topic during Report on the Trade Bill.
My Lords, the Government’s statement on the potential benefits of the Japan agreement indicated growth of £15 billion. Any reasonable observer would have assumed that that meant growth of £15 billion for the British economy. As the impact assessment has shown, only 17.2%—£2.6 billion of exports—is UK growth. A massive 79.9%—£13 billion—is growth in Japanese exports to the UK. Scrutiny of any trade agreement must be full and allow Parliament a proper vote at the outset and at the end. I welcome the ongoing cross-party discussions with the Minister. Will he consider the amendment I have tabled to the Trade Bill, arguing the case for Parliament to have a vote on the agreement, as the Japanese Diet has done?
My Lords, I always consider carefully the points made by the noble Lord. Cheaper imports to the UK benefit the UK economy, so the FTA is not entirely one-sided. I agree that Parliament has to have the information available to allow its scrutiny processes to work effectively.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The scrutiny arrangements in the Trade Bill make no reference whatsoever to climate change or the environment, either in the economic impact assessments or in other reporting mechanisms. Yet the Government’s green recovery plan today shows how a green industrial revolution is essential and how much the future economic health of the UK will depend on success in these areas. Will the Minister look positively at how we can continue our discussions and amend the Trade Bill to include parliamentary scrutiny of these vital issues?
The noble Baroness makes a good point. It is important that the impact assessments that we produce for each of these agreements cover these matters fully. If Parliament has this information, our debates can be more comprehensive and effective. As she says, these are extremely important matters.
My Lords, I am a member of the International Agreements Sub-Committee. It is our job to report to this House on these continuity trade agreements. On 3 November, Ministers signed the agreement with Kenya which will come into force on 1 January. We have not yet seen the text of this agreement. If it is a copy and paste, why not share it immediately? If it involves new commitments, does not Parliament especially need to scrutinise them? When will we see it? How are we to conduct parliamentary scrutiny before it comes into force? If we do not, is this not unsatisfactory?
I pay tribute to the work done by the IAC. It is a very effective mechanism. My noble friend referred specifically to the Kenya agreement. Agreement in principle has been reached but some loose ends are still being tied up with the Kenyan authorities. As soon as the agreement is signed, it will follow the normal processes and there will be full parliamentary scrutiny allowed.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his and the Government’s courteous engagement with the International Agreements Sub-Committee over the UK-Japan free trade agreement. The report will be published very shortly, in the coming days. My question is on the same theme as those of others who have spoken. Do the Government reaffirm the commitments, statements and aspirations contained in the DIT Command Paper of February 2019 on free trade agreements?
I thank the noble Earl for his comments about the Japan free trade agreement. Like other Members of this House, I am looking forward to our debate on it in a couple of weeks’ time. We are following the spirit—if not the letter—of the Command Paper to which he refers.
My Lords, in the House of Commons yesterday the Trade Minister, Greg Hands MP, said:
“We are negotiating better market access in markets such as ... China”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/11/20; col. 196.]
Today Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, has called on the UN to investigate the horrors being perpetrated in Xinjiang. Some 180 human rights groups say that many of the world’s biggest fashion brands and retailers, along with suppliers of PPE to the United Kingdom, and companies such as Huawei and Volkswagen are complicit in the forced labour and human rights violations of millions of Uighur people in Xinjiang. Atrocities include torture, forced separation and the compulsory sterilisation of Uighur women. Is it a case of business as usual, or does the Minister believe that, where allegations of crimes against humanity or genocide are made, these should have consequences for trade with China? Will he therefore accept the amendment on genocide that I have tabled to the Trade Bill?
My Lords, it is good that the Government have confirmed that we have the bandwidth to conclude the agreement with Canada in short order. Can the Minister confirm that his department is at the same time discussing with Canada that country’s approach to our possible accession to CPTPP, and can he give a date by which the Government intend to notify CPTPP formally of our intention to accede? Can he confirm that there will be an opportunity to debate our accession before it is applied for?
My noble friend recognises, as I do, the importance of reaching an agreement with Canada. Of course, the agreements that we will reach with Canada, those we hope to reach with Australia and New Zealand and the agreement we have reached with Japan are all vital precursors to fulfilling our ambition to accede to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It is a complex matter; there are 11 countries in that partnership, and it will take time to bring all this to the point where the meal can be served, as opposed to just being cooked. Once we get to that point, Parliament will be fully involved.
The noble Lord makes a good point. The free trade agreements are vitally important for the African countries; we are well seized of that. We have an active dialogue with them, and look forward to strengthening those agreements as we go forward.
I am afraid it is in fact Lady Kennedy of The Shaws—there was a mistake in the listing. It is clear from many of our debates that the House does not want trade to be elevated above human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, put his finger on the particular problems regarding China. The Government give the right rhetorical support on this, but it is difficult to have confidence when the Minister is on record as saying that
“everything in China gets associated with politics, but we have to look through politics to help get successful business with China”,
“The fact that Xi is prepared to give such strong authoritarian guidance within the context of a market economy is great for companies like mine
I am afraid that this does not give a lot of assurance to those of us who are concerned about the horrors taking place in China.
My Lords, the noble Baroness refers to comments that I made in my previous life, when I was chairing a major business in China for the United Kingdom. It is important to realise the context within which those comments were made but, as I have said previously at this Dispatch Box, I have no patience with authoritarian regimes and I am completely in agreement with the Government’s policy in relation to China.
Public Procurement (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Consumer Protection (Enforcement) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Competition (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motions to Approve
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, we now come to the Report stage of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard.
Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once on each group. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged; a Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to de-group an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate.
Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group. We will now begin.
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
Report (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 24th, 26th and 29th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 17th Report from the Constitution Committee, 8th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
1: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Common frameworks process
(1) The United Kingdom market access principles shall not apply to any statutory provision or requirement that gives effect to a decision to diverge from harmonised rules that has been agreed through the common frameworks process.(2) No regulations may be made by a Minister of the Crown with regard to a matter that is under consideration under the common frameworks process while that process in relation to that matter is still in progress.(3) The “common frameworks process” is a means, established by the Joint Ministerial Committee on European Negotiations, by which a measure of regulatory consistency to enable a functioning internal market within the United Kingdom may be mutually agreed between the United Kingdom and devolved governments.”
My Lords, I wish to move the first of three amendments in this group, which consists of Amendments 1, 38 and 51. They address the rules for the mutual recognition of goods in Part 1 of the Bill, of services in Part 2 and of professional qualifications in Part 3. They are all directed to the same essential point: the relationship between the common frameworks process and the internal market that the Bill seeks to create. Underlying this is a question which goes to the heart of the relationship between the Governments of the four nations in this United Kingdom.
There are two ways in which our internal market can be created. Is this to be a market created by all four nations working together, as they are doing through the common frameworks process, or is it to be created by imposition from Westminster, as the Bill seeks to do? If it is the latter, do the Government really support devolution, as the Prime Minister is now asking us to believe? Actions speak louder than words. How the Government respond to these amendments will tell us where the truth lies.
I am grateful to those noble Lords who have joined with me in proposing these amendments. I should make it clear that I intend to divide the House if the Minister is unable to give me an assurance that the Government accept the principle that lies behind the amendments and will come back at Third Reading with amendments of their own that give effect to it.
The noble Lord, Lord True, has said several times that the market access principles are designed not to replace but to complement the common frameworks. I am sure that he will not mind when I say that he was not the first to use that expression, nor, since it is not his word, if I tell him what I think of it.
The word “complements” is in the White Paper. The noble Lord assured us that the Government remain committed to the common frameworks programme. I would like to take him at his word, but what does he mean by that? Are the market access principles that the Bill sets out really complementary to each other, as he has indicated? It is hard to see how that can be, unless the Bill itself tells us how these two systems are to work together towards the same aim. As it is, when you consider the effect of the market principles on that programme, to say that they complement each other seems a complete misuse of language. My amendments seek to bring the two together, in a way that fully respects the devolution settlement while allowing the principles to operate fully in all the other areas that the common frameworks do not touch.
Without going over again all the ground that I covered in Committee, I should remind your Lordships that the common frameworks process has its origin in an agreement reached at a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council in 2017. Something had to be done to create a harmonious working relationship between them all when we left the EU. The devolved nations had been able, within the limits of EU law, to fulfil their responsibilities as devolved Governments to formulate and apply policies that best suited their local circumstances. So it was agreed that they and the United Kingdom Government would work together through common frameworks in order to enable the functioning of the UK internal market, while—this was a crucial part of the agreement—acknowledging policy divergence. Therefore, each devolved Administration was to retain the ability to diverge from the harmonised rules in their territory within the mandate given to them by the devolution settlement, after consulting the relevant policy group to see whether a common outcome could be reached and agreed to. Now, three years later, and without the agreement of the JMC or any of the devolved nations, we have this Bill.
Not only does the Bill ignore the common frameworks process but it destroys one of the key elements in that process that brought the devolved Administrations into it in the first place: it destroys policy divergence. It destroys those Administrations’ ability through that process to serve the interests of their own people, and to innovate. The common frameworks operate by working out solutions by agreement between the four nations. If a policy divergence is sought, it has to be agreed to. The market access principles system, on the contrary, does not operate by agreement; it is hard edged. It is a set of strict statutory rules which, apart from the few limited exceptions, do not allow for any divergence at all.
A policy aim which is designed to deal with serious threats to human, animal or plant health will be protected by the exclusion in Schedule 1, but that exclusion is narrowly drawn—threats to the environment, for example, are not mentioned. So policy aims giving effect to advances in the science relating to biodegradable plastics, for example, are outside its scope. As time goes on, there will be others which one party to the common frameworks system would like to put into effect. Business is nothing if it is not dynamic, so there must be room for improvement in what we do across all four nations. The common frameworks system should be allowed to develop but, under the Bill as it stands, all of that will be inhibited by rigid rules.
It does not have to be that way. Our amendments seek to go to the heart of the problem. They assume that a requirement is enacted by a devolved Administration that has been agreed by all four nations under a common framework. They assume that it is being enacted to give effect to a policy formed within its own part of the UK, which the other nations, having assessed its effect on the market as whole, are willing to accept. The question is: how can that requirement retain its effect if traders from another part of the UK can simply ignore it when trading across the border? There is nothing that a trading standards officer—or a court, for that matter—could do to prevent that. This is an invitation to traders—who operate, after all, in their own commercial interests according to the rules of the marketplace—to disregard the requirement as they please when they cross the border.
The devolved Administrations deplore the fact that a process that all four nations have agreed to is at risk of being undermined in this way. The Welsh Government have indicated that they cannot agree to this. The Scottish Parliament has refused to consent to it. Others will speak for Northern Ireland. How can this be a UK internal market when it does not have the support of the other nations? Please do not say that there is widespread support for this Bill. That is not an answer to the very precise question that I am raising, which the White Paper said nothing about at all.
Our amendments seek to do no more than allow the two systems to live together. It will enable them both to work together towards the same common aim. In that way the market principles will truly complement the common frameworks, instead of undermining them and calling into question the whole process. Had it not been for the devolved settlements—for devolution itself—there would have been no problem. We would have been a single Administration and there would have been no need for this Bill at all. But we cannot turn the clock back. Devising rules for this internal market requires us to accept the constitutional arrangements that now exist. It is the genius of the common frameworks that a way was found, by agreement, of doing that. That is what our amendments are all about. They are no wider than is necessary. They are not seeking to undermine the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, in this group I wish to speak in particular to Amendment 1, which my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead has explained most eloquently. In Committee, the Government tried to assure us that Parts 1 to 3 of the Bill were somehow compatible with or complementary to the common frameworks process, that the Government were fully committed to that process, and that the intention of the Bill was to fill in the gaps where common frameworks did not operate. But we had no explanation of how the common frameworks process and the market access principles would work alongside each other. No real-world example was cited that the existing common frameworks process did not or could not address in the future.
For example, we were told that different building standards would tie the construction industry in knots. But there are already different building standards, including the excellent requirement in Wales that builders must install fire suppression systems in all new residential premises. This was introduced 14 years ago by the then National Assembly, and guidance to the sector on it runs to several hundred pages—understandable for a measure that will save lives. Has the construction industry been campaigning against devolution as a result? No. Then there was the risk to the English supply of malting barley to Scotland from divergent restrictions on pesticides. That case folded when the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, pointed out that the use of fertilisers and pesticides was one of the extremely rare explicit exclusions from the market access principle.
In Part 3, the regulation of qualifications, we heard that there are no examples of current professions where the measures might be needed, but that they might be needed in future. We were told that
“there may be new technologies, ideas and proposals that will come forward. There is the whole world of artificial intelligence or gene editing—there is a massive range of new and potential professional areas, bodies and qualifications that may come forward.”—[Official Report, 2/11/20; col. 506.]
In response, I simply say that we all want and welcome innovation. Advancement is accommodated in the common frameworks process. This Bill does not complement the common frameworks process; it consigns common frameworks to becoming a meaningless sideshow.
The Bill does not simply maintain the status quo ante EU membership; it shackles the ability of the elected Parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to find their own solutions to the problems we face. It is not based on warm support for devolution but rather on hot resentment of the fact that the devolved Governments and legislatures can innovate at speed and take their populations with them. In response to every example of innovative policy-making by the devolved institutions—on plastics, minimum pricing of alcohol and so on—Ministers say that they would not be affected by this legislation. But what of future innovations? There have been no assurances, because the day this Bill is enacted is the day an iron curtain falls between the past and the future capacity of the elected Parliaments in Scotland and Wales to make a difference.
The charge on disposable plastic bags in Wales resulted in a 90% reduction in consumption, and this has not slipped significantly. But the Welsh Government’s desire to ban all nine types of single-use plastics in combating the environmental emergency could get caught without common frameworks in place. Yet, on the world stage, the UK can now turn this to advantage as, in discussions with President-elect Biden to build and repair relationships, we evidence our ability to action initiatives to tackle climate change.
Amendment 1 and the similar Amendments 38 and 51 to Parts 2 and 3 make the market access principles the fall-back, not the default. They build on the hard work that has already gone into the common frameworks process, rather than negate it. The future of the UK depends on good internal working arrangements, respecting the devolution settlements and ensuring that all four nations work together for the common good. Securing different trade agreements will be difficult, and those negotiating need to know that the four nations recognise the importance of clear external policies, while also ensuring that the specific needs of their own populations are being actively addressed.
I ask everyone who is a unionist to think very carefully before voting against these amendments, because a rejection of this approach of mutual respect across the four nations of the UK is a rejection of devolution itself. Rejecting the uniting processes in common frameworks signals a step towards the break-up of the United Kingdom. We left Europe to have the ability to set our own rules. Now let us respect that ability internally and amend this Bill accordingly.
My Lords, I very much support these amendments. It has been my privilege to often lead the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and today I am very glad to follow him.
I want to say a bit about the nature of the common frameworks. They were brought into being in 2017, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, and he and I played some little part in encouraging that to happen. It seemed to us that it would be entirely right to take account of the different views of the devolved nations and bring them together. To a great extent that is what has happened since this system was set up.
The UK internal market is not a fixed law like the laws of the Medes and the Persians. The detail in the part that deals with the Competition and Markets Authority shows that it is intended that the internal market should develop in accordance with circumstances as they develop. It is not a rigid matter. Some mechanism therefore has to be found before allowing change. As I have understood my noble friend Lord True, he has said that the common frameworks are complementary to the Bill—or the other way round, whichever way you like to take it. That was set out quite clearly in the White Paper that preceded the Bill.
The fundamental point is that the UK internal market law will apply in the whole of the UK, but that does not preclude that law allowing for circumstances that may vary from one devolved nation to another. At the moment I live in the very north of Scotland, and I can see that there is a good justification for having somewhat different rules about building regulations relating to temperatures and so on from those in London. That kind of thing is much easier to deal with if it is dealt with by people who know about it in detail, and that is what has happened in the common frameworks over quite a long time. It has been found that a large number of those frameworks do not require any innovation at all in the circumstances, although there are some, which are still under consideration, that require modification as a result of changes in the various conditions that apply across the United Kingdom.
I take it from what my noble friend Lord True, whom I greatly respect, has said on behalf of the Government from the Dispatch Box that those two ways of legislating are complementary. I am anxious that the way they complement each other should be set forth in the Bill because that is an important part of how the UK market Bill will develop. As I said, there is no question but that it is expected to develop and change.
The situation is that the common frameworks are dealt with by a committee set up by principles. So far as I know, and I have sought information on this point, it has worked very well, so why not allow it to continue? All that is required to happen is that the particular result of agreement in the common frameworks will lead to a modification of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill agreed in the whole of the UK. That seems a very good way of dealing with some kinds of change. The Bill provides for the Competition and Markets Authority to have a function of the same general kind, leading to advice and legislation in Parliament. That is an extremely good and wise way of conducting the business of an internal market, and it makes it clear that the same law applies over the whole of the UK—nothing else but that the law recognises agreed variations suitable to the circumstances of particular nations. I cannot for the life of me see why that is not legislated for in the Bill.
As I have said already, it is said that the two are complementary. There is no provision in the Bill at the moment to say how that complementary relationship is to work. We have sought to do that after a fairly thorough consideration of how it can be done, and that is what this series of amendments is trying to do. If the Government can think of a better way of arranging it then we would be glad to hear it, but we cannot leave it without any consideration at all. If the Bill goes forward without any reference to the common frameworks, it is hard to see how those frameworks affect the issue as they ought to.
I am very much in favour of the amendment, and of the union. All my life I have been concerned with Scotland and I am very anxious that it should remain in the warmth and success of the United Kingdom, which it has done already for a long time. I have personally found that a very great comfort, as your Lordships will understand. So I hope the Government can accept this amendment or, if not, will come forward with a better way of recognising the complementarity of the common frameworks with the Bill and put it in an express form that would be better than this, if they can find one.
My Lords, I apologise to the House that I was unable to participate in Committee, but I spoke at Second Reading.
I shall speak particularly to Amendment 1. I was pleased to add my name to the signatories to this amendment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern have unparalleled understanding of the principles and workings of devolution in the United Kingdom today, while my good friend the noble Baroness, Lady of Llandaff, has a very practical grasp of the day-to-day issues and realities of the operation of devolution in a plethora of policy areas, particularly health and palliative care.
My experience of devolution was initially very much at the coalface of the operation of what was then the Welsh Assembly—now the Senedd Cymru, the Welsh Parliament—for 12 years as a Member and a party leader from its establishment. The reality of life was largely driven not by idealism in those early days, and indeed now, but by ensuring that it operated in the best interests of the people of Wales and of the wider UK. I believe that that lodestar is still what guides Members of the Senedd today in making it work effectively.
The year 1999, with the setting up of both the Scottish Parliament and the then Welsh Assembly, represented a very real break with the past. There were of course pressure points between Wales and Westminster, and certainly between Scotland and Westminster, even when the parties in power were the same, which of course they were in the early days, both being Labour. That phenomenon is possibly more acute when the same parties are in power. Over time, those points of friction have decreased and eased. Politicians and officials got used to closer working. There were still points of dispute, of course, but that is the nature of politics. Devolution was extended and deepened by the Conservatives in Wales with a referendum for full powers, which was passed decisively, and the Silk commission report being acted on and introducing new powers from Westminster. There was a new devolution settlement, which has been honoured by successive Governments and needs to continue to be honoured.
Let us flash forward to the withdrawal from the EU and the work of this House and the other place on common frameworks. As was noted by my noble friend Lord Dunlop in Committee, the introduction of common frameworks was a success and agreement was
“reached … in October 2017, between the UK Government, the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the senior civil servant representing the Northern Ireland Executive, on the principles to guide the work on common frameworks.”—[Official Report, 26/10/20; col. 58.]
That approach has delivered on the policy areas that were identified, with very few exceptions, which were all truly exceptional. It is worth restating that the common frameworks have delivered and are delivering.
It may be an unpalatable truth for some that consensus has succeeded, but it has. Dirigiste action—directions imposed top down from the centre—will not be successful. As the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House has concluded in relation to this Bill:
“We consider that adhering to the principles agreed for formulating common frameworks would improve the likelihood of reaching agreement on how to progress the Bill.”
Respectfully, I very much agree with that view.
I am a committed unionist and a proud Briton. I was pleased to see how successful the common framework was in delivering. I was at some of those meetings where the common frameworks were being discussed, representing both Northern Ireland and Wales on those occasions. I take no pleasure at all in the possible break-up of what, to me, is the greatest country in the world. It is far from inevitable, but the preservation of the union has to be worked at constantly. It is vital for the devolved Administrations and Westminster to work together—which Amendment 1 provides for—never more so than now. That is why I support this amendment and urge others, and indeed the Government, to do the same.
My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, with whom I served in the National Assembly 20 years ago and who has done a good hard day’s work for Wales. We do not always agree, but we certainly agree on the need for us to work together whenever possible in the interests of Wales and the wider interest represented in this Chamber.
I rise to support Amendments 38 and 51, to which I have put my name. I will also speak to Amendment 1, moved so effectively by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The House is indebted to him for the diligent and convincing work he did in Committee and has done on earlier legislation before this House. He has highlighted the need to establish an acceptable mechanism for facilitating a harmonious working relationship between the four Governments of these islands in the context of the UK common market. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has also been diligent in pursuing these points, and has warned graphically today about the iron curtain that will fall if the Bill goes forward unamended. I know that several colleagues will have received representations from the Welsh Government on these and associated matters.
I will not restate the detailed arguments in favour of the common frameworks. I am sure that I am not the only Member participating in this debate who is, by now, heartily sick of having to restate time and again the same old arguments concerning the relationship between the devolved Governments and the Westminster Government in the context of the post-Brexit world that we inhabit. I am sure that noble Lords from England are tired of hearing the same issues arise time after time—as they have in a succession of Bills and debates over the last four years—about how new legislation to create appropriate manufacturing, farming and trading relationships between Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England will work out, how a level playing field may be established and how differences may be resolved without undermining either the integrity of the UK market or the authority of the devolved Governments within their own devolved competences. Both need to be achieved, but the Government address only the first: the integrity of the UK market.
Members of this Chamber from Wales are heartily sick of having to press the same issues time after time for the simple reason that they still have not been resolved. Colleagues from Scotland and Northern Ireland may well feel likewise. The Minister is no doubt equally tired of having to trot out the same old responses. The debates continue because the uncertainty continues and, even now, six weeks before the end of the transition period, we still do not know what the trading parameters applicable from 1 January next year will be.
If that uncertainty were not enough, this week, the Prime Minister described devolution as a disaster. The tragedy of the post-devolution era is that Westminster still has not adjusted its mindset to accept that it now has to work in partnership, not as a domineering and patronising big brother that always expects to get its own way. It is that failure, more than anything else, that now stands to blow the United Kingdom apart, and it is central to this amendment.
It is facile to blame the SNP for advocating the policy that is, after all, their raison d’être. The far more relevant question is why, in every election since 2003, have the SNP secured the support of the Scottish electorate to govern Scotland? It is no use the Prime Minister shooting the messenger; he must ask himself, as must all his colleagues in government: how is it that such a clear message from Scotland has come about? One element in the answer to that is Brexit and, in particular, the failure of the Government to put forward an acceptable model for the post-Brexit trading relationships within the United Kingdom. This amendment offers them an opportunity to put that right.
Once again, these amendments seek to establish a partnership in which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, described, there is a system of framework agreements that can help to ensure that one Government will not overrule the other three Governments on matters where responsibility is now returning from Brussels. I am glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, has his name to these amendments because, through the passage of this Bill and earlier legislation impinging on these matters, he has consistently advocated to join common frameworks. He understands how important this is in a Scottish context for such a provision to be included; indeed, he understands the reservations that many Members of the Scottish Parliament, across party lines, have with this Bill as it currently stands.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, added his name to this amendment and was delighted to hear him speak from his personal experience. As former leader of the Conservatives in the National Assembly, as it was then, he understands the need to get this right. He also understands the thinking among Senedd Members in Wales today. There is enough cross-party agreement in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast and Westminster that this area needs to be revisited and that the Government, surely, must move to make some accommodation along the lines of these amendments. I hope that the Minister is in a reflective mindset and, indeed, a conciliatory mood today, and that he will be positive in his response.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and a real privilege and honour to follow the speeches of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. They were speeches of real quality, and they got absolutely to the heart of the problem that had been identified in the Commons—indeed, identified time and again.
Everybody accepts the need for trade that is as frictionless as possible within the internal market of the UK. Everybody equally respects the need for appropriate divergence. How are those two matters to be dealt with? The answer, which everybody in this House and the Commons agreed with, was the common frameworks process, set up by the Conservative Government, with the agreement of the devolved Assemblies, in October 2017. It is a process that has stood the test of time and works to deliver divergence by agreement.
I note in passing that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said that he often led the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. However, one thing that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, did not learn from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was emollience. However, the trenchant language used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, today was appropriate. He said that “actions speak louder than words”. He said that if we are to believe the commitments repeated in the last 24 hours by the Government on devolution, they need to deliver on their promise that the common frameworks process should be allowed to complement the internal market arrangements.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said that, without some amendments to this Bill, it would be a “misuse of language” to say that they complement each other. I beg to suggest that what he meant by that is that if you have only the market access principles and no legal recognition of the common frameworks process, that process is completely ignored because—to use the language of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in an earlier part of the proceedings on this Bill—this is a “blunderbuss” that, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, does not allow for a key part of the functioning of devolution, namely divergence in the appropriate case.
We on this side of the House support Amendments 1, 38 and 51. We think they do give effect to the common frameworks in a legally binding way, without in any way undermining the need for a properly functioning internal market—the need for which we recognise. I earnestly ask the Government, on behalf of this side of the House, to do what they kept saying they would do: find a solution to the problem. It is so important, not just for the proceedings of this Bill but for the preservation of the devolution settlements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the preservation of the union.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow all the speeches so far, which have so compellingly made the case for the common frameworks process. I wish to speak in favour of the amendments in this group, which have been spoken to so effectively by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. These are amendments which, rightly, seek to give effect and primacy to decisions agreed under the common frameworks process. I regret that it was not possible for me to join the Committee stage proceedings, but I have read the Official Report of the first-class discussion of similar amendments debated on 25 October.
The issue of common frameworks and the lack of any recognition in this Bill of their existence, let alone their importance, goes to the heart of many of my profound misgivings about this proposed legislation. As has been noted several times in the past and already several times today, the creation of the common frameworks process can be traced back to the Joint Ministerial Committee declaration on 16 October 2017. Among the principles set out in that communique was that:
“Common frameworks will be established where they are necessary in order to: enable the functioning of the UK internal market, while acknowledging policy divergence”—
and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, emphasised the words “policy divergence”. Among the other principles was that:
“Frameworks will respect the devolution settlements and the democratic accountability of the devolved legislatures, and will therefore … maintain, as a minimum, equivalent flexibility for tailoring policies to the specific needs of each territory as is afforded by current EU rules”.
Crucially, and to state the obvious, that declaration was agreed by the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations.
The importance of such agreement being reached was recommended by the conclusions of the European Union Committee of the House, which, in its fourth report of the 2017-19 Session, said:
“Any durable solution will need the consent of all the nations of the United Kingdom, and of their elected representatives.”
It went on to say that
“A successful settlement cannot be imposed by the UK Government: it must be developed in partnership with the devolved Governments.”
The Government themselves acknowledge in their most recent report, published only a few weeks ago, that
“the UK Government and devolved administrations have continued to work jointly to develop UK Common Frameworks, to protect the UK economy and give maximum certainty to businesses, consumers and international partners”,
and, notably, that United Kingdom Ministers commend UK common frameworks as ensuring
“regulatory coherence across the UK by flexibly managing any potential policy divergence across the four nations.”
However, instead of building on the positive and constructive work of the common frameworks process, we have this Bill, which surely runs counter to the conclusions of the European Union Committee report. Quite clearly it does not command the support of the devolved Administrations, nor was it developed in partnership with them—it is being imposed by the UK Government. That is why I believe that these amendments are so essential to restore the common frameworks process as the main driver for giving certainty to business and allowing potential policy divergence to be sensibly managed.
With respect, the efforts of Ministers to date to explain why the common frameworks are insufficient to achieve that goal have so far been unconvincing. In a letter of 10 November to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, the chair of the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, the noble Lord, Lord True, sought to explain why common frameworks alone are insufficient. He said that:
“Common Frameworks cover the large number of policy areas where powers previously exercised at EU level will flow directly to the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast. The Common Frameworks programme is restricted to these areas, and is not intended to cover the full spectrum of the UK economy or of business operations.”
The last sentence is factually correct, but the implication is surely that the provisions of this Bill are intended to go beyond areas where powers were previously exercised at EU level. That runs counter to what is said in the opening paragraphs of the Explanatory Notes, where we are told that businesses should be able to trade freely across the UK “as they do now.” The measures in this Bill obviously do not apply “now” to areas where powers were not exercised at an EU level, nor have they applied, or indeed been needed, in the 21 years since the devolved legislatures were established.
Rather than building on the common frameworks process, and in spite of there being no examples of trading among our UK nations having been disrupted by the legislation of a devolved legislature in these 21 years, this Government seek to take powers to regulate and diminish these legislatures as some kind of safety net against some unspecified hypothetical measure which might be brought forward at some unspecified future time. On no account can that be described as proportionate.
Surely the better way of achieving a durable and successful solution would, as advocated four years ago by the European Union Committee and reflected in the recent report of the Constitution Committee, be to reinvigorate the common frameworks based on consent and in partnership with the devolved Administration—or as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, put it, “all four nations working together.”
If the Government feel that there are gaps, far better to negotiate and agree with the devolved Administrations principles of mutual recognition which can be incorporated in a fresh memorandum of understanding, as well as establishing a common way forward on resolving disputes. Of course there may be challenges involved, but the agreement on common framework principles in 2017, and the admirable co-operation shown since in developing them, suggests that it is a far from impossible task.
Many of us would be reassured if, before Third Reading, Ministers were able to show a willingness—reciprocated by the devolved Administrations—to engage constructively with the objective of producing the draft of such a fresh memorandum of understanding, together with proposals for a common way forward on resolving disputes. Building on the common frameworks process, agreed jointly and implemented co-operatively, surely provides us all with a better way forward.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness and I support the amendments in this group in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I declare an interest as a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee.
The purpose of this important group of amendments is to safeguard the common frameworks process and ensure that it is placed in legislation. The common frameworks process cannot be bypassed by attempts by the Government to impose themselves on the constitutional devolution settlements. I agree with the premise that the amendments seek to ensure that primacy and due recognition are given to the common frameworks and that they are enshrined in legislation. They should not be perceived by the Government as a means of conflict with the internal market Bill. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has said, there has to be frictionless trade and divergence by agreement. The best way to capture that is by ensuring that common frameworks sit within the legislation itself.
Common frameworks are built on the assumption that consent and agreement can be reached between Westminster and the three devolved Administrations and that they should not be undermined. The process of common frameworks should be respected and honoured in the legislation and should not be eclipsed in any way. It is interesting that in our Common Frameworks Select Committee yesterday Professor McEwen said that the process of common frameworks has sufficient flexibility to allow divergence. That builds on the comment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. In Committee, it was said that the legislation is seeking to jettison the common frameworks process that was started in October 2017. In many ways it is a common approach to managing divergence, a point made to our committee last week by the Welsh Counsel General, Jeremy Miles.
The Governments have been working on a primacy or a hierarchy of Governments in this to develop common frameworks in areas where they agree it is necessary to replace EU regulations with shared EU regulations or non-legislative frameworks. The Joint Ministerial Committee made clear that common frameworks will be established where they are necessary in order to, among other things, enable the functioning of the UK internal market while acknowledging policy divergence. These points have been made by earlier speakers today. It was clear from listening to the Ministers from the Scottish and Welsh Governments last week that, although they come from different political perspectives, they see the benefits of working together in partnership to manage divergence on certain policy issues through the common frameworks. So why would the Government want to nullify that process? It is surely eminently complementary that they can work together in legislation with the regulations of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.
I make a plea to the Government and the Minister to change their minds and make such provisions for common frameworks in the legislation. By abstracting the internal market from these frameworks and pushing ahead unilaterally, against opposition from the devolved authorities in Scotland and Wales, the UK Government are putting the common frameworks and devolution arrangements at risk. Coming from Northern Ireland, I fully recognise that there will be divergence anyway in Northern Ireland because certain measures to do with electricity transmission and the agri-food industry will be subject to the rules of the Northern Ireland protocol. What is the Government’s view of the devolution settlements? Do they view the devolved Administrations as subordinate or equal to Westminster, which I believe they should be? Common frameworks should be allowed to work; they are an innovative process to manage divergence.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I hope that the Minister is in a conciliatory mood today and that he can accept Amendment 1 and Amendments 38 and 51 which are consequential. The noble Lord, Lord True, said that the Bill and common frameworks are complementary as they work together to deal with future divergence. The best way to deal with that is, surely, in the internal market Bill. That would eradicate the frustrations and any difficulties, which is an important thing to do.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. Before I do so, I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, for his graciousness in coming to speak to the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, and I follow my esteemed colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, in her speech.
The Committee has since taken evidence from Ministers and leading academics across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I have to tell the Minister that we have found no evidence whatever to support the Government’s claim that the Bill is complementary to the common frameworks. We have heard, time and again, of the deep anxiety on all sides that the Bill undermines them in principle and practice and that, most significantly, it will do serious harm to trust and confidence between the four Governments, as the House has already heard this afternoon. In the words of many witnesses, those relationships have never been worse. We have heard from those witnesses of many examples of how the common frameworks themselves, in pioneering innovative, collaborative ways of working across the nations, have brought a new common purpose and are, in that way, improving relationships.
My first question to the Minister has been asked already: is this not in itself a prize worth keeping? That unity of purpose which makes it possible for two systems to live together to make the internal market stronger and more innovative is at the heart of the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, which he introduced, as usual, in a measured style and with devastating power. The amendment encapsulates both the principles and the purpose of the common frameworks as a means of managing the internal market, but in a rational and predictable way by managing the future divergent policy choices made by the four countries in a post-Brexit world, as they have for many years in the past.
Divergence is the signature and symbol of devolution and a mark of confidence in the right to make choices in each country, in law, which are appropriate to each nation. Doing that brings clarity and stability in the trade in goods and services across the internal market by agreement. The amendment simply asks the Government to change the Bill so that when the common frameworks have reached agreement on divergence, whether in goods or services, that is not demolished or overridden by the operation of the Bill.
No matter what examples the Minister gives, or whatever rationale he finds, this is the effect of legislation made in Westminster. Governments may be equal, but Parliaments are not. The Minister may say that nothing is being taken away from the powers of the devolved Governments in these clauses, and he is right. The Bill does not need to do that. Its effect, however, is the same, because future legislation in Wales which would, say, have enabled the abolition of a further six types of single-use plastic—which is the ambition—would not be able to be put into effect as long as other manufacturers of plastic goods are able, as they will be under the principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination, to bring their goods for sale in Wales.
I shall ask the Minister a direct question, and I would very much appreciate a direct answer. Was the Welsh Attorney-General right when he told the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee that the legislative preferences in the Senedd could not be enforced on the ground in Wales—that we would not be able to enforce the ban on the extra six plastic products if this Bill came into force? “Enforcement” is the key word. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was eloquent on how difficult is going to be for trading officers and the courts to know how to enforce it. There is no certainty here, yet certainty is at the heart of the Government’s argument. All this very modest amendment is asking is for the Government to acknowledge this and stop dodging this reality.
As many noble Lords have said already, the far greater impact is what this Bill is doing to the principles of devolution and the future of the union. I have searched hard to find why the Government are taking such a provocative line that runs such risks. I had hoped we might have seen more of a thaw in Downing Street now the architects of chaos have been chucked out, but it seems Ministers are still in thrall to that toxic heritage.
It is clear, not least from recent government statements, that this Bill is seen as a purely commercial proposition. Its authors cannot see any ethical or political problems that cannot be ignored, dismissed or overridden. Ministers have told us that it is necessary to bring certainty but in reality, it is a dreadful combination of uniformity, imposed by the UK Government, and uncertainty. Where is the comfort for business there?
We are told that the Bill is necessary because it creates a coherent legal framework within which the common frameworks can sit, which is needed because there are gaps. But this very framework chokes the common frameworks off. Whenever we or anybody else have asked, publicly or privately, where the gaps are and why the common frameworks cannot develop to fill them, there has been a deep and embarrassed silence from the Government. We are told that the common frameworks are limited in scope, but when we ask why they cannot be expanded to cover what may be needed, since they have proven to be so flexible, we are again met by silence. Why will the Government not give the common frameworks the time and opportunity to prove themselves?
On Monday in this House, the Government set out their plans for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, which will be a fantastic opportunity to celebrate everything good about this country—its institutions and communities, in all four nations. I find it profoundly sad and ironic that we should now be debating a Bill that will do more harm to the unity of this precious union of the UK than we can imagine, because it will become a symbol of the disrespect this Government have shown to the devolved nations. I would urge the Minister to read the evidence our committee has taken from those Ministers in Wales and Scotland who are profoundly aggrieved by the conduct of the Westminster Government—by the fact that 24 hours before this Bill was published, they knew nothing about it, and by the fact that every argument and piece of evidence for the damage it would do is brushed aside.
It is not too late for the Government to salvage this situation. The Minister has heard many persuasive arguments from many senior Members of this House already this afternoon. Ministers in this House are always trusted to do their best to prevent the worst consequences and to act on principle. This amendment offers the Government a dignified option that would remove the threat of a major national disruption. I have no doubt that the House will support the amendment this evening. I hope, with all sincerity, that the Minister can show some flexibility.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and I would like to congratulate her and her committee for all the work they have done in connection with common frameworks. I would also like to express my support for the amendments in this group and, in particular, Amendment 1, for the eloquent reasons set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I would also like to recognise and pay tribute to the work they did in instigating the common frameworks, and to note the role of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations in agreeing in 2017 to create the common frameworks.
If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is minded to press this amendment to a vote, I intend to support it, for two principal reasons. One is the advanced stages of discussions on the common frameworks that have been reached, as a number of noble Lords have said, and which have proved quite fruitful; the other is the lateness of this Bill and the proceedings, and the poor consultation of the devolved nations.
In progressing these arguments, I would like to refer briefly to the eighth European Union (Withdrawal) Act and Common Frameworks report and the revised analysis, which were published on 24 September. They go into some detail about the policy areas that have been covered and conclude that, in total, there are 40 active framework areas—18 legislative and 22 non-legislative. They go on to state that in some instances, policy areas include a mixture of reserved and devolved competence, including where technical standards that derive from EU law are relevant. These policy areas include four that the UK Government believe are reserved, which are subject to ongoing discussion with the devolved Administrations.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in moving his amendment, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and others have referred to the environmental aspects. I have a particular interest in this as I am fortunate enough to be a member of the EU Environment Sub-Committee. Paragraph 1.21 of the latest report, to which I have just referred, states:
“There have been regular Frameworks Project Team meetings between officials in the UK Government and the devolved administrations, where productive collaborative work continues.”
Examples are then given. Paragraph 1.22 states:
“Multiple meetings have taken place between officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and their counterparts in the devolved administrations. These include working group meetings … on Animal Health and Welfare,”
“Waste … Chemicals and Pesticides, and Fisheries.”
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, specifically mentioned the need to recognise conditions relating to the environment where divergences and different threats need to be established. He noted that there is no specific reference to the environment in the exclusions given in Schedule 1.
As I mentioned at Second Reading, for all these reasons it is bewildering that the Government have parted from the very advanced discussions of the common frameworks process. I would like to pay tribute to and thank those involved in them, particularly the Defra officials, who, in addition to all they have had to deal with at this time, have worked closely with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations.
Unless I hear a very strong argument from the Minister as to how the progress that has been made can be accommodated, I will support Amendment 1 and the other amendments in this group.
My Lords, I am one of no fewer than seven members of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, including our chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who we have already heard from, and the mover of this amendment, who are participating in this debate, which shows our interest—one of those interests you do not need to declare. I call it a debate but I fear that, sadly, even more so than usual, because of the hybrid nature of our proceedings, it is more a series of statements. That is a great pity and I look forward to the day when we can get back to all sitting round this Chamber and having a proper debate.
I also speak as a strong supporter of devolution since the early 1960s, when, as some of my colleagues here, who are nearly as old as I am, will recall, to be a supporter of devolution was not the most popular thing to be in the Labour Party. We had to work very hard to persuade the party to move in that direction. I say that now to put into context what I will say later, but I sound a cautionary note. People sometimes get on to a bandwagon, and it goes faster and faster, more and more people jump on, and they do not always know which direction it is going in and what the consequences and all the implications are.
We have had devolution for a very long time in Scotland, but mostly it was administrative devolution. We have had a different educational service for a long time. As my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who is a Scots advocate—not practising, as she keeps reminding us—could tell us, we have had a Scots law system that is entirely different. We have had that for decades—indeed, in some cases for centuries. However, for so long, legislation in Scotland was dealt with at Westminster right at the end of lots of other legislation, as a sort of afterthought or codicil. There was little time spent on it, or interest in it. I was a Member of Parliament, along with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others who will remember that it was not the main business we were dealing with. That is why we pushed hard.
The main argument in favour of a Scottish Parliament was to provide democratic accountability in relation to the administrative devolution that had already taken place. But we always understood—this is what I think some people have forgotten—that Westminster remained and remains ultimately responsible for the good government of the whole United Kingdom. That is something never to forget. Some people want us to forget it, but it is very important. We have a sort of quasi-federal system. It was supposed to develop throughout the whole United Kingdom, but the proposal that the Labour Government put forward for devolution in the north-east of England was ill thought out. It was put forward at a bad time and did not get through. Had we had devolution for the whole United Kingdom things would be very different from the way they are at the moment.
The other thing is that devolution is completely different from independence. The two are completely separate concepts, and it is important never to forget that. It is in the interests of the SNP, the nationalists, to obfuscate, to muddy the waters, to pretend that one and the other are very similar, and to say, “Don’t worry”. Boris Johnson, our Prime Minister, recently showed that he does not understand devolution, but beware: equally, the SNP does not want us to understand devolution and is not using it as it is meant to be used, to benefit the people and improve the conditions of the people in Scotland.
Someone—I think the noble Lord, Lord Bourne—raised earlier that when we have Governments of similar political persuasions in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom there are sometimes substantial difficulties. I know exactly that situation: I was Minister of State for Scotland in the United Kingdom Government and I dealt with an Administration in Scotland that was run by the Labour Party in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. We worked very well together. I used to meet weekly with Ministers in the Scottish Government. We had discussions about free personal care and how it should be funded. They were good, positive discussions and we all understood the position exactly.
I acknowledge as much as anyone—after all, I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament for four years, so I saw it as an MSP—the importance of involving the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments and Governments, consulting where appropriate, giving them powers, allowing them total control over all the devolved areas and having them involved in other areas through the legislative consent Motions and the Sewel convention. I know that, and I felt it myself. But it is equally important to remember that each of the devolved Governments are not always right. Sometimes I think that some people assume that they are always right. I worry sometimes that we in Westminster do not want to be seen as big brothers, or to impose on or upset them, so we take what they say as gospel. We give them a veto where it is not appropriate. Sometimes I wonder whether those who came late to supporting devolution are the strongest advocates of taking account of their concerns: it is the zeal of the convert, perhaps.
Having said all that, I strongly support the amendment because it is better to achieve consensus through a common frameworks procedure, a procedure by which agreement can be reached in most cases, and if it cannot be reached there are mechanisms for resolving that, rather than the clumsy, if I may say so, blunderbuss of the internal market Bill, which was rushed in without consultation. This is where I do understand and agree with what others have said, and with the devolved Administrations. I do not blame the noble Lord, Lord True, but I know who is to blame—he does as well.
I do not want to see one—particularly one—of the devolved Administrations having a veto. That is why I hope the Government will look carefully at the possibility of the qualified majority and how it can be used, so that if three out of the four agree to go forward, one, for its own particular reasons, cannot stop this being achieved. I also hope that the Minister will look at the amendments relating to the super-affirmative resolution and the kind of safeguards that gives.
Finally, I say to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing: if you throw meat at them they just ask for more. Beware: it is sometimes better that, from time to time, they be tethered. It is better that, from time to time, we give the people of the countries of the devolved Administrations the opportunity of looking forward to having Governments that look after the interests of the people, not their own political aims and ideals. What we have in Scotland now, sadly, is a Government who put that above everything else. We have seen it in some of the services in education, in the health service and in justice that have been neglected. It is something that I ask colleagues in this debate—I hope it will become more of a debate—to remember.
My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord, particularly in his plea that we parliamentarians should debate in depth with all who want to take part in this Chamber. This is my first opportunity to thank colleagues on the Front Bench, my noble friends Lord True and Lord Callanan, for the way they handled Committee stage. It was not an easy Committee; nevertheless, one notes that among the amendments on Report there are a number of government amendments that follow some quite long debates on issues. We should reflect as colleagues and thank them for listening and coming forward with those amendments.
Subject to rereading the debates on the final day, I also hope that it is now recognised in the House that there is nothing illegal about the Bill. Noble Lords may disagree with it and with the politics of it, but its legality is now without question.
I am sure everybody is pleased, as I am, that there appears to be total agreement that the common framework is complementary to this Bill as matters stand and that—we have listened to noble Lords from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—it appears to have worked well. That is to be cherished but, having spent five years in the chair looking at this, I note that it is pretty unusual to have a linkage across one Bill that becomes an Act and another Bill that hopes to become an Act. If there is to be such a linkage, the evidence must be absolutely conclusive, because if you go down that road you will find a clash of interests at some point. As a parliamentarian, for me that is the worst of all worlds.
At some point, arising from the dimensions of some of the contributions today, we may well need a further Bill reflecting some of the issues voiced this afternoon. However, we should not impose a new clause which appears to undermine to a degree the drive of this Bill. We need to reflect that this is a UK government Bill. It is all about the powers of the UK Government, particularly regarding the internal market but nevertheless recognising that the UK Government are responsible for external matters.
This amendment appears to me, having looked at and thought about it quite a lot, to undermine this. I am really concerned that, as it stands today, this may undermine devolution to a degree. I fully accept and understand that we may well want a full debate on a different Bill on the powers that rest with the Northern Ireland, Welsh and Scottish Governments and with the central UK Government, but this is not the Bill for that. I understand people’s concern about it, but this Bill focuses totally—and I believe should continue to focus totally—on making a success of leaving the EU.
My Lords, I reflect from the debate so far that the leadership of the main political parties at Westminster would do themselves a favour if they studied the speech of my noble friend Lord Foulkes. I will not go over the detail, but there were sufficient warnings there from someone who has had experience of the Scottish Parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords that really need to be listened to.
The first four speeches, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, were masterclasses in argument in favour of the union, going well beyond this amendment. To be honest, I must tell the Minister that this is not a modest amendment, as far as I am concerned; no way is it a modest technical adjustment of the Bill.
This Bill, as was said earlier, destroys policy divergence. It is a one-size-fits-all Bill; to that extent, it is a rejection of devolution. I well remember the examples that my noble friend Lord Foulkes gave, as will the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. Take the 1974-79 Parliament; it was always at 10 o’clock at night that we got Scottish business, on housing and education, and we were on a three-line Whip, with slender government majorities or, most of the time, no government majority. We always thought, “Why can’t Scots deal with this themselves? This is a different legal system, which most of us do not understand.” Moreover, there was never enough time for those representing Scotland, who did understand it, to debate the matters fully. Born out of that was devolution.
My experience, which I will not go into in detail, was as a Minister at the ODPM and MAFF—which had massive contacts with the devolved Administrations simply because of the devolution of food, farming and agriculture—and then at the Food Standards Agency. At the time, the Scottish Government were in effect forced to set up their own food standards agency, as they were entitled to do by the legislation. Wales and Northern Ireland may well do the same—the legislation allows them to do it—because they will be forced into the situation as a result of issues such as this Bill.
I do not quite understand this issue of complementary arrangement. I spent a bit of time while listening to everybody’s speeches going through my dictionaries, thesaurus and everything, and I still do not understand it. There seems to be no connection between the common frameworks set-up and the Bill. If that is the case, I cannot for the life of me see how there can be any complementary arrangements. The Bill overrides the other processes; there is no connection whatever to that extent. Amendment 1 puts in a connection, which is crucial.
In terms of divergence over what is required with imports, the UK Government will take no account of what happens in the common frameworks process if the Bill goes unamended. Again, it will be one size fits all. The trade department will do the trade deals and take no account whatever of any desired or agreed policy divergence between the four constituent parts of the UK.
The Prime Minister has made the position crystal clear. It does not matter how much spin he puts on it or how many weasel words come from him and his acolytes; the fact is that he said that
“devolution has been a disaster north of the border”.
That is a fundamental attack on devolution; it would not matter who was in charge north of the border. He said it was a fundamental mistake of Tony Blair, but he later tied it to the actions of the current Government in Scotland; he did not say that to start with. He was fundamentally opposed to devolution. You cannot compare the devolution of the Mayor of London with what happens in the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The union is at stake. Ministers seem to gloss over this. I think we are on our way to a federal Great Britain. I give full support to this amendment, which is fundamentally required. This is nothing personal, but I have never seen a spark of conciliation from the noble Lord, Lord True—I am sure he will take that from me as an absolute compliment—and I do not expect him to be at all conciliatory to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has said, and in due course I expect to vote for the amendment.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and his fellow signatories on these amendments. Amendment 1 neatly turns this Bill on its head, so that market access principles will not apply to any decisions to diverge that are agreed through the common frameworks process. That means that common frameworks come first, and it is only when they do not provide complete cover that the provisions of this Bill need to come into effect.
The Government have maintained throughout these debates that they remain committed to common frameworks, despite their determination to avoid even mentioning them in the Bill. They have insisted that all they want to do is fill the gap left by our leaving the EU and that they have no intention of attacking devolution. The mask slipped on Monday when the Prime Minister called devolution a “disaster” and “Tony Blair’s greatest mistake”—which makes it a greater mistake than the Iraq war. The cards are now on the table.
The Government have also hidden behind what they allege to be the requirements of the business community, and that is what I want to deal with now. That seems to have been a misrepresentation, too. Some noble Lords may have been contacted by the Aldersgate Group, which represents major businesses, professional institutes, civil society organisations and academic institutions. Its corporate members have a collective turnover of £550 billion a year and include Associated British Ports, Tesco, John Lewis, Siemens, Michelin and many more household names. The group wants this Bill substantially amended. It says specifically that, although it wants frictionless intra-UK trade,
“these objectives should be pursued in a way that allows individual nations of the UK to go above and beyond minimum common standards.”
The group points out that EU rules allow member states to go beyond harmonised rules relating to the environment, for instance, and that this has allowed the UK in the past to set higher standards on single-use plastic, for example. The group states:
“Allowing different approaches in different jurisdictions that are subject to common minimum standards can drive improvements and result in a race to the top.”
Finally, it points out that frictionless trade and encouraging a race to the top in environmental standards are not mutually contradictory.
I live in Cardiff and, like the noble Lords, Lord Bourne and Lord Wigley, I am an ex-Member of the Welsh Assembly. Therefore, I have a strong awareness of the successful efforts within Wales over the last two decades to encourage responsible and sustainable economic development. As a country, we know that we cannot win markets on the basis of our size and dominance, so we set out to win business on the basis of excellence and higher standards. That is a noble ambition and Wales—as I have pointed out before—is a perfect size for experiments and pilot projects.
It is common frameworks that lie behind the development of higher standards. I am a member of the Common Frameworks Committee. We have had evidence from academics, reports from officials involved in developing common frameworks over the last three years and conversations with Ministers from the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. All these people say that the common frameworks process is working well, that collaboration is good and flourishing, and that they are a good and firm foundation for the future of the internal market in the UK. So this Bill is not needed—and certainly not without major amendment to cement the central and primary role of common frameworks, so that, as long as there is agreement between Governments via a common framework, innovation and specific requirements for individual markets will be possible. My noble friend Lord Bruce is also a member of the Common Frameworks Committee and has specifically asked to be associated with my remarks on this today.
As it stands, the Bill severs all incentive for the development of best practice and stops innovation in its tracks, not just within the devolved nations but, by read across, in England as well, because there is no compulsion or incentive to raise standards. In the words of the Aldersgate Group, the Government’s proposals will “stifle innovation”. That is a long way from the world-beating post-Brexit economy of the Government’s imagination. At the same time, this Bill strikes quite deliberately at the whole basis of devolution. It is designed to roll back devolution, and I warn the Government, as several noble Lords have done already, that their tactics are dangerous, not clever, and that they are playing with fire.
It is a very great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the many other noble Lords who have spoken in support of these amendments, and in particular Amendment 1. I strongly support that amendment in the names of my noble and learned friends Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.
It is a great shame that these issues were not addressed some time ago in the House, after the promising steps taken in the withdrawal Act. It was obvious that there had to be arrangements to deal with a common approach to standards and—a matter to which we will come later—state subsidies, and any other matters that are essential to the operation of any internal market. We are where we are, but this Government cannot say that we have to continue to proceed along the lines of the Act without thinking through the consequences of passing it—particularly passing it unamended.
Some have said that people must be sick of points being raised about devolution. But it is important to point out that the provisions of the Act and the ones we are considering not only affect the devolution settlements and the positions of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but should be as much a concern for England. We are concerned with standards that can apply to an internal market across the UK and can be enforced in England, as in other places. Sometimes, we forget the effect this could have on England.
I will take two examples. In its current form, this Bill would prevent the operation of one of the nations that wished to produce a product that was beneficial to the environment. I will take Wales as a country that would want to do that as it innovated in the case of plastic bags. I will take the example of selling ketchup in single-use plastic bottles and Wales being the first in the UK to think of introducing legislation banning that sale. In the other nations the regulations that may have to be complied with would say nothing about that, so manufacturers there would be able to sell ketchup in single-use plastic bottles. If a common framework were agreed that Wales was allowed to diverge and ban the use of ketchup in single-use plastic bottles, Wales could then proceed and make such a regulation. The effect of this Bill would be that the Welsh regulation could not be enforced in Wales against the sale of ketchup in single-use plastic bottles manufactured in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland or imported into England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The Welsh regulation would have been rendered nugatory.
Of course, if the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is accepted, it would prevent that result. It would allow the Welsh regulation to be enforced and it would be a provision that gives effect to a decision to diverge from the common framework process—and while the common framework was under discussion it would prevent the principles in the Bill applying. That has the wholly beneficial effect of driving up standards. I will put the converse example and substitute for a beneficial aim an example where one of the Governments decided to pursue an aim that was not in the results beneficial: for example, if a Government decided to allow a manufacturer to make and sell a product in packaging that was harmful to the environment.
It is not difficult to envisage this happening when a Government bow—as they do, regrettably—to pressure from a manufacturer to allow such packaging, as it would provide much-needed employment and, at the same time, play down the harmful effects. As it currently stands, the Bill would allow that manufacturer not only to sell the packaging in the nation that was prepared to permit this, but in all the other nations. Without this amendment, the Bill would have the effect of driving down standards. These two examples show, therefore, that this is a matter of concern for the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for the Government of the UK in its capacity as the Government of England. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope has so eloquently explained, deeper issues are involved. Will the Government stick with their commitments to respect the devolution arrangements or will they undermine them? Alternatively, do they wish to achieve an internal market by consensus and with proper discussion?
I do not need to say again that, without the amendment, these provisions demonstrate a desire to undermine the devolution settlements for, without this amendment, common frameworks are pointless. However, it is worth thinking a little further. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has tried to explain, dealing with an internal market is a complex matter, and it would be much better if there was time for proper debate. Taking the second of my examples, it is easy to see how the consequences that I have outlined would undermine a proper approach to an internal market and bring about a result that no Government would want. Surely the better way of proceeding is to allow this amendment, to allow the common frameworks to develop, and to think again about how we deal with these issues of standards—as we come later in the debates to deal with the issue of subsidies—so that we create an internal market which is thought through, works, is achieved by consensus and will build the prosperity that I, like the Government, wish to see come out of this process.
My Lords, without the new clause proposed by the noble and learned lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, the common framework system is redundant and, without a change of attitude by the Government, the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is gravely threatened. I agree with the new clause as proposed by the noble and learned Lord and his co-signatories for the reasons that they have given, and I will support them accordingly if a Division is called. That I am disagreeing with my noble friends, the hard-working and overworked Minister on the Front Bench and Lord Naseby, is a matter of avoidable sadness.
As will readily be appreciated, common frameworks are a mechanism for the UK and devolved Governments to agree among themselves some regulatory consistency for policy areas where powers returning from the EU are within devolved competence. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, told us, the principles for when a common framework is needed were agreed between the four Administrations in October 2017. It was then agreed that common frameworks would be established where they are necessary to enable the functioning of the UK internal market, while acknowledging policy divergence; to ensure compliance with international obligations; to ensure that the UK can negotiate, enter into and implement new trade agreements and international treaties; to enable the management of common resources; to administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element; and to safeguard the security of the United Kingdom. We expect common frameworks on a wide variety of topics, from the UK emissions trading system to food safety.
This House has appointed the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee to scrutinise and consider matters relating to these frameworks. I am, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has indicated, one of seven members of that Committee speaking today. It is a privilege to follow another, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, whose remarks, as always, deserve close attention. Under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, we have already considered in a properly collegiate way a number of draft framework agreements, and we have more work to do.
It will perhaps be said by the Minister that this proposed new clause would disapply elements of the Bill, leaving people waiting in limbo for framework agreements to be concluded where consensus between the four Governments was not being achieved. It could create legal uncertainty about when an agreement has been finalised and hinder the Government’s ability to act where there was a need to do something quickly to avert a crisis. However, these are not convincing arguments. In which framework agreement area do the Government expect a prolonged—or even any—lack of consensus? If there is a damaging delay, the Government and Parliament can deal with the actuality, as opposed to the theoretical, with a one or two-clause Bill in a matter of hours. If the Government refuse to accept this proposed new clause, they will be doing something entirely contrary to government and Conservative Party policy, namely to encourage and even hasten the break-up of the United Kingdom. I cannot believe that they intend this. If they do, the policy behind the Bill is even more eccentric than I had previously thought. I identified some serious concerns at Second Reading and in Committee, and do not wish to add to them.
To prevent this proposed new clause becoming part of the Bill will undermine the purposes set out in the 2017 communiqué and have the adverse consequences that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, cited but, worse, it will endanger the union. I assume that the Bill is intended more as a political instrument than a constitutional one. I know that the development of our constitution over centuries has been at times unplanned, pragmatic and even haphazard, but we have tended to avoid deliberately destructive or destabilising measures.
The devolution settlement is by no means perfect but, as a Conservative and unionist, in company with my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and my noble friend Lord Bourne, and many other noble Lords who have spoken today, I want to resolve the conundrum without destroying the integrity and cohesion of the United Kingdom. The natural and probable consequence of enacting this statute in its unamended form only three years after the quadrilateral agreement underpinning the common frameworks process will pull us in a damaging direction, through unwanted domination, absence of collaboration, lack of respect for the limited powers of the devolved Administrations, and a failure to recognise the complex and dynamic nature of this area of public policy. It will provoke an unequal and opposite reaction and hasten the break-up of the union.
My Lords, speaking after so many distinguished noble Lords, I will try to avoid repeating what has been said. I formally offer the Green Party’s support for these amendments and thank the noble and learned Lord who tabled them and his co-signatories for their labours and powerful arguments.
I will offer three perspectives from green political philosophy. First, on the value of diversity, which the common frameworks approach embraces, a healthy ecosystem and a healthy governance system contain diversity. Our outdated, dysfunctional Westminster system acts to suppress that and, in response, we have seen the successful drive for devolution that has brought in political diversity across these islands. As we speak, the Senedd is considering extending that diversity to local government in Wales. That is a direction of travel that the Bill clearly and deliberately seeks to wrench into reverse, being deliberately destructive, as the noble Lord, Lord Garnier, said.
Diversity has obvious practical benefits, such as the ability to experiment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, reflected earlier, with different approaches to blocking the flood of single-use plastics into our choked islands; different approaches to producing healthy food from flourishing small market gardens and farms; and different approaches to educating our children, which later amendments in my name address. Where one approach is transparently successful, we hope others will follow its lead—unless political calculations get in the way.
The second philosophical point is about the value of localism—the people affected making the decisions that affect them, ideally democratically, as the nations other than England enjoy their democratic devolved legislative structures. “Take back control” was a very popular slogan in 2016. I entirely agree with that need, and put it to your Lordships’ House that this is what the amendments in support of the common frameworks agreement do for the people of these islands.
Finally, there is the value of co-operation. Working co-operatively is something that we, as Greens, find is very popular with the public. They are fed up with the see-saw of two-party politics, of a new Government seeking to sweep aside and to argue against everything their opponent did, just for the sake of claiming victory. The common frameworks approach is the very epitome of a co-operative way of working.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said that for the Government to reject these amendments is to reject devolution itself. I agree. She said that it would be a step towards the break-up of the United Kingdom. I agree. My view of the union is different from the noble Baroness’s. I believe there is a strong natural current towards taking back control in many parts of the United Kingdom but, if it is to happen, we can surely agree that it should be in a co-operative, positive environment, not nations feeling that they have to struggle their way out from under the boot of an overweening, care-less, distant Westminster.
Finally, taking the scientific perspective that reflects my background, I invite your Lordships’ House to consider the fate of the trilobites, whose long story of ocean success and eventual extinction was laid out in a paper in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Science this week. Through three periods of mass global extinction, the trilobites were a large part of ocean ecosystems but, after each challenge, they had less diversity in ecological niches and bodily forms. Eventually, they dwindled to one species and disappeared. In diversity, co-operation and local power is strength. In homogeneity, dominance and centralism is a loss of resilience, decline and the potential for disaster.
My Lords, this has been a remarkable afternoon. I agreed emphatically with my friend the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, when he said it was not so much a debate as a series of statements. I have said similar in the past about other debates. I really believe it is essential that we do something to restore debate. My very good and noble friend Lord Naseby made an interesting speech, but I would have loved to have intervened. I would have challenged him, for instance, when he said the Bill is entirely legal. It is now, because we took out Part 5 last week but, if they attempt to put it back, it will become illegal again. He would have responded robustly and interestingly to that sort of interchange. It brings the place alive. We are in a dead, one-dimensional Parliament and we have to do something about it.
Having said that, I will make a suggestion. If we group the speakers who are in the Chamber, it should be permissible for me to intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on me, me on my noble friend Lord Naseby or whatever. At the beginning, whoever is on the Woolsack reads the rubric about all noble Lords being treated equally, but there is a time to depart from that. It is entirely right and proper for noble Lords to speak on the screen but, if they are there and not here, they cannot expect to enjoy all the privileges and preferences that those of us who take the risk to come here ought to have. I urge those who arrange these things to consider that.
Outside Part 5, the subject of today’s debate is the most important part of the Bill. We had a magisterial introduction to the debate from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, wonderfully and amusingly backed up by somebody who led him so often, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I beg the Minister, in his reply, to reflect on what those two eminent lawyers said. One was a Conservative Lord Chancellor of many years, and he was backed up by others such as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who was another signatory to the amendment. I think that all noble Lords who introduced this amendment gave, as one noble Lord described, a masterclass in how to do it.
Despite what my dear and good friend the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, the Government have demonstrated that they can listen to your Lordships’ House—not only on the Agriculture Bill a week ago, but today on the Order Paper. We have all had a letter, signed by my noble friends Lord True and Lord Callanan, thanking us for our contributions in Committee and saying that they have taken points on board. They have—not enough, but they have. If any point is to be taken on board it is that which we are debating in this first series of amendments. It is crucial, as several noble Lords have said, as the union is at stake.
We were not helped by a certain insensitive remark by an eminent personage a couple of days ago. As we have said before, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I were on opposite sides in the 1970s when we were debating devolution, but it has happened. It is a fact of life. Therefore, there has to be an arrangement between the constituent Parliaments of the United Kingdom. Every noble Lord who has spoken today, with the possible exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has expressed a fervent desire to keep the union. It is the most remarkable union in modern history, but it is at risk. It is at risk because the Prime Minister is perceived—and perceptions are so important in politics—to have a rather haughty attitude towards Scotland. It is at risk because the Government are perceived not to care sufficiently about the frameworks of the constituent Parliaments of the United Kingdom.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, laid this out with forensic and clinical precision. I beg my noble friend, in his reply, to reflect on what the noble and learned Lord said in introducing our proceedings. Notice that I am not calling them a “debate”. I beg and beseech my noble friends, Lord True and Lord Callanan, to show a degree of sensitivity, as they have on some other amendments. Sensitivity is not a political weakness; it is sign of political maturity and strength. Reflect and, as I hope, we may not have to vote this afternoon.
I hope the Minister promises to come back at Third Reading, having had conversations with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. Remember that, for several years, he led the Conservative Party in the Welsh Assembly, as it then was. These are not political enemies and this is not a party-political issue. It is a constitutional issue of supreme importance to all parties. I ask the Minister, please, to take it away and have conversations with the noble and learned Lord, my noble and learned friend and other noble Lords, and to come back at Third Reading. If he cannot give that conciliatory, sensible and constructive answer, then I will have no hesitation in pressing the “Content” button on my machine.
My Lords, first of all I say how much I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has said about how we should organise our affairs. We have to bring back genuine debate to this Chamber, and I hope that those responsible will take on board what he has just spoken about.
Secondly, I had prepared what I thought was an extremely well-argued speech on the subject before us today. However, having listened to far more eminent figures than me talk about the need for these common frameworks, I am not going to deliver it. All I will say is that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in opening the debate, spoke with a sharpness, a forcefulness and a logical directness that the Government would be well advised to take into account.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister because I think political questions arise from this discussion. First, does he acknowledge that the Government have changed their policy on these common frameworks since 2017-18, and why? It is clearly the case that there has been a change of policy and that Theresa May, in her commitment to “our precious union”, as she put it, saw the dangers that Brexit would pose to the devolution settlement and tried to find a consensual way of resolving them. David Lidington, with the help of people such as the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, came up with this concept of common frameworks as a way of doing this.
Why, in this Bill, if the Government have not changed their policy on these common frameworks, can they not find a place for them in the legislation? What is the objection to actually acknowledging their existence to balance the abstract principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination, which every single lawyer in this Chamber tells us will override the practical effect of these common frameworks? Why do the Government not come clean about this? Why do the Government not admit that what they actually want is to take power to the London Government to get their way on whatever they want in this area, rather than using the bottom-up, consensual approach that David Lidington and the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, put together in the passage of the EU withdrawal Act? I think the Government should do that because we are marching into very dangerous territory for the future of our United Kingdom.
I remember that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in his speech in Committee, argued that common frameworks were consistent with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality that had been underlying principles of the European Union in this area of law. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said in response, “Well, those are European principles. We have now left the European Union; we don’t have to follow them anymore”. What principles are the Government following? What is the Government’s vision for the future of the United Kingdom now that the Prime Minister has described devolution as Tony Blair’s biggest disaster? Will he please set out to us what is his vision of the balance of relationships between the devolved nations? We are really getting into very dangerous territory.
I hope that we can somehow rescue the situation by getting these common frameworks back. If we do not, I hope that my party will press the case hard for a major constitutional convention on the future of the United Kingdom. It seems to me that unless we provide that credible alternative, the nationalists in Scotland will break up what has been one of the greatest ventures in history.
My Lords, I start by saying how much I agree with what a number of noble Lords have said about the nature of debate in this sterile House, and I hope that we can certainly move on. I think it is important to say that because, as noble Lords might expect, I am not going to be saying much else which will find favour with other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.
I respect the concerns about protecting the powers of the devolved Administrations which lie behind the amendments in this group, but I believe that these amendments would not be helpful in the context of the internal market and might well be very harmful. There is no exact correlation between what the common frameworks cover and the UK’s internal market covered by the Bill. Indeed, the functioning of the internal market is only one of six objectives of the common frameworks programme. Not every common framework will have a UK internal market dimension, and not every aspect of the UK internal market is included in the common frameworks programme.
So if Amendment 1 is agreed to, we will have uncertainty from day one about which bits of the common frameworks would override the market access principles. Uncertainty kills businesses. Uncertainty might be resolved only by the courts, and that could take five, maybe 10, years to bring to conclusion. Businesses cannot in general cope with timeframes of that nature, and that is especially true in today’s lockdown-harmed business environment.
The common frameworks are by their very nature detailed and specific. They are practical solutions to well-defined problems, such as compliance with international obligations. They do, however, have two big weaknesses. First, they have no guiding star, or no guiding principle, and they cannot, by their nature, cope with future change. By contrast, the internal market enshrined in the Bill is based on the overarching and enduring principles of market access, namely, mutual recognition and non-discrimination.
I am very clear that businesses want the Government to deliver an internal market which has as few barriers to trade as possible. They do not want to have to master thousands of pages of common frameworks, which may or may not impact the internal market, just to do business 10 miles away if that is over one of the UK’s internal borders. I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that I have never even heard of the Aldersgate Group she referred to as representing business opinion, and I do not believe it represents the opinion of the whole business community.
In Committee, I urged noble Lords to consider the provisions of the Bill through the lens of businesses and individuals who will be trying to live, work and trade within the United Kingdom—that is what the Bill is about. By viewing the Bill through the lens of what the devolved Administrations think they might lose in terms of devolved competence, I believe that they may end up inflicting acts of self-harm on the people and businesses in their own territories.
I remind noble Lords of the high degree of dependence of the devolved nations on trade with other parts of the United Kingdom. This is an issue for Scottish businesses and residents, Welsh businesses and residents and Northern Ireland businesses and residents. It is important but not such a big issue for English businesses and residents. If trade is made more difficult, the result, as night follows day, will be higher cost and less choice for consumers. At a time of economic stress, that does not seem a sensible route to follow.
I have heard many arguments of principle adduced by the supporters of the amendments, but I have heard less about the practical issues. We heard about Scottish concerns on minimum alcohol pricing, but that was debunked in Committee. I believe that building regulations are a new red herring that has been introduced and will not conflict with the Bill. The Bill does not outlaw every variation within the UK, as some have tried to suggest. More importantly, I am still waiting to hear what will make life better for the businesses and residents of the devolved nations if the amendments are passed.
More than 90% of UK small and medium-sized enterprises, and nearly 60% of large businesses, trade only within the UK. That is the scale of the issues we are facing with the amendments. I hope that noble Lords will not jeopardise the aims of an internal market which works for the whole of the United Kingdom by pressing the amendments.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is right: I found cause to agree with her opening statement, as I did with the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Cormack, and others. The need to have proper debate—not least to allow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, to go back to his heckling—would add to the debate.
Congratulations should go to the proposers of the amendments and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer and my noble friend Lord Newby, who have managed to create a debate which gives your Lordships a proper choice. That choice centres around the words “mutual respect”, because the Bill as it stands, unamended, is disrespectful to the devolved authorities and to the process of devolution. The amendment gives your Lordships a chance to build that respect back into the Bill.
On many occasions, Ministers have freely used the word “complement” and expressed the view that the common frameworks complement the process devised by the Bill. Unless those common frameworks can be built into the Bill, and unless the Minister can explicitly explain how they complement, there is no complementary process; there is replacement, which I believe is sought by the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, spoke of the common frameworks as if they were some Bolshevik plot. I remind him that they were the policies of a Conservative Government whom he probably supported and voted for at some point in the recent past.
The amendments give an opportunity to put respect back into the Bill, but there is also a practical element to them. We should remember, as we were reminded by, I believe, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, that trade and the internal market are flexible: they move, they change. The common frameworks are designed to be a flexible, living document. As many Peers have pointed out, they are also there to manage divergence. The common frameworks are there to manage divergence and, as we have heard from a number of speakers, not least my noble friend Lady Randerson, that divergence delivers innovation, progress and better things for this country.
My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace brought up something very important. In the words of the Minister, the Bill seeks to do that which the common frameworks do not do. The common frameworks do that which is being transferred from the European Union. Therefore, the Bill is trying to do more than was being transferred from the European Union. This is a zero-sum game. Where is that power coming from? It is being reserved by the Government from what was previously devolved. My noble and learned friend showed that that is the clear plan that sits underneath the Bill.
Your Lordships have spoken at length about the symbolic nature of what the Bill does to the devolved settlements and their future, and I will not re-emphasise those points, but I prescribe to the Minister, who I understand is a busy person, the Second Reading speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop. It makes good reading and could very well inform some of the decisions that have to be taken as a result of what we are discussing today. I will not read the whole speech, but I pick up one sentence:
“The broader question for the House and for this union Parliament is: do we want our country’s future to be all about endless intergovernmental competition and conflict or about co-operation and confidence?”—[Official Report, 19/10/20; col. 1336.]
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said that actions speak louder than words. He also said that these amendments reset the relationship with the four nations, which is why noble Lords on these Benches will support these amendments if they are pushed to a vote.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, despite the fact that it is decidedly one-sided—although the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, did her best to redress the balance—and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I said to him in an earlier meeting that this might be one occasion—perhaps the only one—when the House would be happy to hear a full response from him to the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and his distinguished co-signatories and supporters.
I say that because, as the noble and learned Lord said, although the amendments sensibly address the rules for the mutual recognition of goods in Part 1, services in Part 2 and professional qualifications in Part 3, their underlying, ancillary purpose is to support and enhance the relationship between the Governments of the four nations of this United Kingdom. They focus on the key question raised by the Bill: is this to be a single market under new rules created and imposed from Westminster or is it to be all four nations working together, managing appropriate divergence, as they are currently doing through the successful common framework process?
I hope the Minister will give us a full answer to the important questions raised by this debate. I also hope that he will reaffirm his Government’s commitment to our devolution settlement, because, as we have heard, our current settlement is under pressure—not least because of recent comments from the Prime Minister. This is not confined to the devolved Administrations. The virus, the recession and recent spats over local lockdowns, who manages public health and welfare best and who pays have exposed a centre that seems unable to listen and outlying areas that do not feel they are being consulted. As we will come to in later amendments, these are bodies with far greater knowledge of what is happening locally, but which lack the resources to solve the problems they identify. It can be argued that the Bill is actually about gathering powers which should be devolved to an insensitive centre which is trying to imprison a multinational country composed of vibrant, diverse regions with diverse histories and needs into a straitjacket of a unitary state. We can and need to do better than that.
As many noble Lords have said, the most striking aspect of this debate so far has been the wide cross-party support for these amendments, coupled with the fact that no fewer than seven members of the Select Committee considering common frameworks have made it clear beyond peradventure that the common framework process is alive and well, doing the job that the Government say they need done: supporting frictionless trade across the UK, improving standards, managing divergence and strengthening the union. Why is this process not at the centre of the Bill?
We support these amendments and will support the noble and learned Lord if he decides to test the opinion of the House. However, we heard from the Minister in earlier stages of the Bill and in separate meetings that his mind was not closed on this issue. Obviously, other interests are at stake here. However, the case made today by virtually everyone who has spoken has been strong and formidable in the arguments deployed. I urge the Government to give the House an assurance that they accept the principle that lies behind the amendments and that they will come back at Third Reading with amendments of their own which give effect to it. If so, we would support that.
It is clear that there is more that unites us on this issue than divides us, and it is clear from the tone and content of the debate that this would be the preferred solution of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, in preamble, I say again that I agree with those who would like to see our old proceedings back; as long as I am trusted and have the privilege to answer to this House, I will seek to do so from this Dispatch Box. However, I say to my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches that if they want to have heckling from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, they should be careful what they wish for.
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I try always to be in a conciliatory mood. Particularly after a debate such as this I am mindful of the wise advice of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius: “Accept modestly; surrender gracefully.” Unfortunately, however, as noble Lords who have had the privilege of serving in office will know, conciliation does not mean that one must accept specific amendments.
This debate was rooted in a passionate and sincere spirit, almost universally shared, of concern for the union and respect for devolution. As I say, that unites almost all of us who have spoken, including the Member now on his feet. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, made a fascinating and thoughtful speech, which of course I will study carefully. Those of us who care for the union and support devolution should be cautious in echoing the separatist claim that this or that action is being done to undermine devolution when it is not. The debate about effect and perceived effect is legitimate. The claim of bad intent that we have had from some is risky, if not perilous.
The UK Government and the devolved Administrations all have a clear stake in a smooth-functioning internal market, as my noble friend Lady Noakes pointed out. However, the Government have been clear—we have made no secret of this in the Bill—as my noble friend Lord Naseby said, that the right place for final decisions on the internal market should be the United Kingdom Parliament, where parliamentarians from all parts of the United Kingdom can debate and vote on legislative proposals.
I was asked a specific question by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, touched on it also. New restrictions on the sale of goods, including goods made from plastic produced in or imported into one part of the UK, will be subject to the mutual recognition principle for goods unless an exclusion in Schedule 1 applies. The Bill will preserve the devolved Administrations’ ability to regulate in line with their own strategies and regulate production of goods in their territory. However, goods, including ketchup, sold lawfully elsewhere in the United Kingdom will not be denied access to other parts of the UK market unless an exclusion applies. Consumers are of course not required to buy them.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in his powerful opening speech claimed that the Bill “destroys divergence”—that it is not possible under the Bill. I want to make it clear that to say it is not possible is incorrect. The Bill will apply only where divergence would create a market barrier under the conditions set out in the Bill. Domestic producers will have to conform to local regulation, and devolved Administrations will be able to regulate the use of all goods.
My noble friend Lord Callanan and I have welcomed positive engagement with a number of your Lordships across the House on the common frameworks programme— some noble Lords have been kind enough to allude to that. This issue and the concerns raised in our debates are important. I hope we will be able to draw lessons from these discussions in the constructive spirit that they have taken on to date and find ways to set at rest some of the concerns expressed that we believe are unjustified.
As I have said before to your Lordships’ House, we, along with the devolved Administrations, remain committed to the common frameworks programme. We recognise the importance of the issue and the need to underline unequivocally the Government’s continued commitment to the frameworks programme, before and after the passage of the Bill. An iron curtain will not fall. For all the profound respect I have for the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I do not believe that that sort of language is helpful.
Our commitment has been made clear to your Lordships’ House at every stage in our debates and discussions on this to date, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, and in the regular publication of framework analysis, which has been in circulation since 2008. The pursuit of this aim must respect the interests of the other parties involved in the common frameworks programme. There is no indication at present that the devolved Administrations would support placing common frameworks on a statutory basis. Indeed, when I had the privilege of giving evidence to a Welsh Senedd Select Committee last week, that was not the impression I received. However, in any case, common frameworks have not been designed to carry legal force.
The Government have made it clear—yes, I will use the word—that the frameworks programme and the UK internal market are two complementary undertakings. The devolved Administrations will continue to be able to innovate and regulate in devolved policy areas, but the UKIM Bill will create limits on the extent to which they can enforce new requirements against traders from other parts of the United Kingdom. The market access principles will ensure that any divergence does not damage the ability of UK companies or investors to trade with every part of the United Kingdom. I appreciate the feeling across the House on this matter, but the Government view retaining the flexibility and voluntary nature of the programme and respecting market principles as important and viable complementary objectives.
I acknowledge that there may be an appropriate way to put frameworks into the Bill while retaining the flexibility and the voluntary nature of the programme and respecting the market principles. However, I respectfully suggest that the approach proposed here to make these amendments to the Bill is not the right one, and I will seek to explain why.
The approach proposed in these amendments would significantly change the nature of common frameworks, giving agreements within them primacy over the market access provisions in the Bill, as acknowledged and argued by the amendments’ signatories. Although I understand the intention of these amendments in seeking to define the relationship between the common frameworks and the market access principles, they are problematic in a number of respects. The approach would automatically disapply the market access principles and mutual recognition of authorisation requirements in relation to regulations or requirements that implement agreements reached under common frameworks. I disagree with my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier; this creates a risk of legal uncertainty. On this I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes in her powerful speech about the interests of business and consumers, particularly in the smaller economies of the United Kingdom—an aspect ignored by the signatories to the amendments.
The approach in the amendments goes against the very purpose of the Bill, which is to give businesses across the UK certainty on the conditions under which they must operate. The amendments would make the operating environment potentially unstable and create confusion for business. No one could know for sure, until the question was determined in court, whether a regulation or requirement, or a combination of regulations or requirements, was giving an effect to an agreement reached within a common framework. There would be uncertainty as to whether or not the market access principles applied.
For instance, in the case of the provisions of Amendment 1, proposed subsection (2) creates the risk that Ministers would not be able to make any regulations in the absence of an agreed framework. This approach is too broad and would allow for a situation where Ministers are unable to legislate until a common framework process has been completed, even where there is a pressing need. Ascribing an expansive legal definition may well lead to unintended consequences, without having the safety net of mutual recognition and non-discrimination present for citizens and businesses.
Equally, Amendment 51 would disapply the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, set out in Clause 22(2) in its entirety. This could lead to significant uncertainty for those reliant on continuing mutual recognition of professional qualifications across the United Kingdom. There is also scope for legal uncertainty on exactly when mutual recognition under Clause 22(2) would be disapplied. Furthermore, where these amendments refer to the completion of framework processes, they leave open, as we discussed in Committee, the question of what would constitute an end—I think the word then was “exhaustion”—to the relevant framework process in a given area. If it is not possible to agree a common framework, it is unclear at what point limitations proposed by these amendments would cease to apply. Once again, such uncertainty would create the risk of an excess of litigation and perverse outcomes, as different Administrations might differently interpret what constitutes an end to negotiations on a common framework. As I said in Committee, not everyone has the same definition of an end.
In our judgment, this broad approach to using common frameworks to disapply elements of the Bill goes too far and could lead to legal and regulatory uncertainty. Subjecting businesses to the uncertainty of waiting for numerous individual agreements to be reached between four parties is not in the interest of the devolved Administrations, inward investors, or the businesses and citizens of the United Kingdom.
I appreciate your Lordships’ interest in this, and will restate the Government’s wish to find a way to allay concerns, in the context of this Bill or outside. We remain absolutely committed to the common frameworks programme. However, in the light of the contributions today, which I have listened to carefully, I must none the less tell the House that these amendments do not provide a basis for any agreement before Third Reading. I recognise that noble Lords may therefore wish to press their amendments. None the less, I formally urge noble Lords to withdraw them for the reasons I have outlined.
I have received only a single request to speak after the Minister, so I am going to call the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, to ask a short question of elucidation.
The Minister cast doubt on warnings about the impact on devolution. Has he looked at opinion polls in Wales tracking support for independence? That is a country that only 20 years ago very narrowly accepted devolution. It is a country that voted for Brexit, and one that is governed by a Labour-Lib Dem coalition—two unionist parties. You can see in that country the clear feeling about the way in which this Government are behaving.
My Lords, I am not sure that is directly relevant to the subject matter of the Bill. I thought I had in fact made the point that imputation of motive and intent is a political choice that should be exercised wisely. This Government’s intention in this Bill is in no way to undermine the devolution settlement and I have restated, from this Dispatch Box, our commitment to the common frameworks. As for opinion polls, if I were a Liberal Democrat I would not live by them.
[Inaudible.]—perspectives have offered support to what these amendments seek to do. Picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—sitting on my own in my little room, participating virtually—I too very much regret that it has not been possible for us all to join together in the Chamber. I see the value of the points he was making about introducing some more lively spirit among those in the Chamber, so there could be a real atmosphere of debate, which even remotely we would be able to enjoy.
I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord True, said. He expressed his position, as always, very clearly in careful language. I think, on a fair reading, that the clauses in Parts 1 and 2 are more absolute in their effect than he was making out, and I do not accept the criticisms that he makes of the amendments’ effect. Of course, I do not claim that the amendment I have put forward is a final solution; there was always an option open to the Government. If they thought the amendments could be improved upon or altered to meet some of the points that the Minister made, that could have been done—but there was no such offer forthcoming from him, for reasons that I understand.
The question was whether the devolved nations should continue to be free to develop and apply market policies within their devolution mandate which have secured agreement under the common frameworks process, or whether that freedom should simply be brushed aside, as the Bill really seeks to do. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this Government regard devolution as an inconvenience that can simply be ignored when they want to. I regret that very much indeed. I am a unionist and I believe in the union and all that it stands for, and all the values that I hope it will continue to give us in future. But I am afraid we see here an uncompromising, careless and centralist style of government, which divides our United Kingdom into pieces at a time when harmony is most needed. That has no place in our democracy.
I know that the Minister will reflect very carefully on what has been said today, and I hope that he will do his best to persuade those at the heart of government to think again, but what he has said in his reply leaves me with no alternative. I seek to test the opinion of the House on my amendment.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
I should inform the House that, if Amendment 2 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 3 or 4. In that case, the debate on the group beginning with Amendment 3 will take place with Amendment 8 or 9, as called. The debate on Amendment 4 will take place with Amendment 5, with the same list of speakers. I hope that that is all clear.
Clause 3: Relevant requirements for the purposes of section 2
2: Clause 3, page 3, line 25, leave out subsections (8) to (10)
My Lords, I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group which stand in my name and those of other noble Lords. I am very grateful that such a distinguished group of noble Lords have supported them.
Since my amendments were tabled, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has, to my pleasure, added his name to Amendment 2. He will, of course, make his own arguments clear on why he supports this amendment, and I look forward to hearing them. However, I hope to change his mind just a little further in this debate and to say a few words in respect of the amendments as they now stand.
We had a very powerful debate in Committee, when it was made absolutely clear that the majority of your Lordships agreed with the combined censure of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee that the Government had taken unprecedented and unnecessary Henry VIII powers in this Bill—powers that were too wide, too vague, opportunistic and altogether so inappropriate that the best thing to do was to remove them from the Bill entirely.
I have to declare an interest in the Delegated Powers Committee. It was set up more than three decades ago and has, particularly in the past few years, recorded the casual and accelerating abuse of the parliamentary process.
Both committees dismissed the arguments that the Government made originally in support of these extraordinary clauses as contemptuous of Parliament. They pointed out that the argument that secondary legislation could offer more speed and flexibility to deal with things that just might happen in the future were both specious and dangerous.
In particular, they referred to Clauses 3 and 6, which are the twin pillars of the archaeology of market access—mutual recognition in Clause 3 and non-discrimination in Clause 6. They said that they contained Henry VIII powers which, in each case, allowed Ministers to alter the definition of the key requirements of the Bill—for example, the fundamental nature of what is traded, and the characteristics of goods and matters related to, for instance, their inspection and production—and, in each case, to rewrite those principles substantially in secondary legislation. The DPRRC said that both clauses suffered from the same defects and both proposed to make future amendments merely by consulting the devolved Administrations but without seeking their consent.
The committee was equally clear that both clauses were conjoined and equally egregious, and that the relevant subsections in both should be removed. That is just what my Amendments 2 and 7 would do. Therefore, I was really delighted that the Government had clearly respected the weight of the argument of the committee and had agreed to withdraw completely subsections (8) to (10) of Clause 3.
In his letter to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on 12 November, the Minister said that the Government had done so because they recognised
“the strength of Peers’ concerns about the number and extent of delegated powers, and therefore”
“prepared to remove this power.”
So far, so very good, but, sadly, and for reasons that I really cannot explain, the Government have not recognised the committee’s identical and equally grave concerns in relation to Clause 6. They merely said that they are
“fully committed to ensuring that the use of the power in clause 6(5) is subject to effective oversight and consultation.”
I really do not want to be churlish about this; I want to persuade the Government to do the consistent and logical thing. My first question to the Minister is: if they recognise the problem with Clause 3, why cannot the same grace and logic be applied to Clause 6? What is different about Clause 6? The substance of Clause 6(3) deals with slightly different aspects of trade but ones that are no less important and cover, in some paragraphs, exactly the same areas, such as inspection. Therefore, why should the non-discrimination aspect be treated differently from market recognition and be subject only to the uncertain and retrospective review that the Government offer? The Minister’s letter is silent as to the reason, but I have some hope that this evening, with encouragement, he might be prepared to reconsider whether it would not make better sense to treat these two clauses consistently, in the same way, and to remove both sets of subsections from the Bill, rather than introduce a whole new set of anomalies.
There is another reason why he might want to think again about Amendment 7. Much of the debate on the whole Bill turns on the impact it has had, from start to finish, on the future of the devolution settlements and the respect given to the devolved and equal Governments. We have just finished a debate on that point on Amendment 1—the way in which the Bill impacts on the freedom that the devolved Administrations have to apply their legitimate and different legislation. I will not repeat what I said on earlier amendments, but, as the DPRRC report puts it:
“Clause 3(4) equally affects all the administrations of the UK. If it turns out to be defective, it should be for Parliament to correct it rather than Ministers at Westminster.”
However, with these clauses the Government can act without the need to introduce new primary legislation or to obtain the consent of the devolved Administrations, the Minister being under a duty only to consult, even though the proper functioning of the internal market is essential to all the Administrations of the UK.
The identical language is applied in Clause 6, so that, I argue, is a very powerful ethical, legal and political case for removing the relevant subsections from both Clauses 3 and 6. These powers of consultation without consent stand out as a failure to understand what the Delegated Powers Committee spells out quite clearly: that this part of the Bill marginalises the devolved Governments. I simply do not understand why the Government do not grasp the significance of that.
The other amendments in my name in this group, Amendments 12, 17, 31 and 42, deal with different ways in which secondary legislation is used to deal with other, related matters in the Bill—indirect discrimination, for example. Amendments 12 and 42 concern the list of legitimate aims; Amendment 17 concerns the powers to amend Schedule 1 in relation to provisions excluded from the application of the market access principles; and Amendment 31 deals with the power to amend Schedule 2 to add, amend or remove services or requirements to or from those currently excluded from principles of mutual recognition and non-discrimination. Each of those amendments, again, reflects the egregious way in which secondary legislation has been seen as a point of first resort.
The Government have responded to the committee’s recommendations, according to the detailed letter that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, sent to it, by tabling amendments that will provide for additional consultation with the devolved Administrations. Those amendments are not in this group, but I simply say that “consultation” is a very slippery word and a slippery concept, unless it means conducting a serious and independent consultation and taking account of and acting on the findings. If it does not, it is meaningless. To consult is not to seek consent, which is what the devolved Governments seek and are entitled to.
The government amendments in this group, however, contain something of a novelty: provision for the review of the exercise of delegated powers in Parts 1 and 2 covering both goods and services. While I would much prefer these powers not to be in the Bill in this form at all, I will listen with care to what the Minister has to say and what he tells us about the reviews, what they will do and when and how they will do it. I will be looking for evidence of independence, rigour and any identification that the powers have been misused in the way that the committee has already drawn attention to.
We should not be having this debate on the Bill in this way. The Government now have the opportunity to change their tone, particularly since the Jacobin tendency seems to have been evicted from No. 10. But we have had years of the Government challenging the legitimate role of Parliament in ways that we simply could not have imagined a decade ago. I really hope that, in the word of the moment, we can reset that relationship. The tone of the letter sent to the DPRRC was something of a mea culpa from the Minister but it was only a start.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has accepted the deep concerns of that committee and the Constitution Committee on Amendment 2. I only ask him to treat Amendment 7 in the same way and agree to the relevant subsections being removed from the Bill. If he cannot accept my Amendment 7, I shall have to seek the opinion of the House when we come to it. For the moment, however, I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak in strong support of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, to which I have added my name.
As many noble Lords made clear at Second Reading and in Committee, this Bill has plumbed new depths in undermining our democracy through the unprecedented and unacceptable use of Henry VIII powers to sidestep the scrutiny of Parliament and give Ministers extraordinary powers. It is no accident that it was Henry VIII clauses in this Bill, six of which are the subject of this debate, that prompted the chairs of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Constitution Committee and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to write to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Leader of the House of Commons expressing their deep concern about these developments. This Bill using Henry VIII powers unreasonably is of course not a one-off. As a relatively new member of the Delegated Powers Committee—I should declare that interest—I have been very conscious of its growing concerns about this Government’s increasing use of delegated legislation and ever wider Henry VIII powers. It is worth putting on the record a point made by the Leader of the House of Commons in response to the letter from the three committee chairs. Mr Rees-Mogg says that
“there will be times when the Government will still need to rely heavily on delegated powers, particularly if legislation is needed urgently, but I am clear that at all times the Government must fully justify the appropriateness of these powers to both Houses and to your Committee.”
The problem is that in the view of the Delegated Powers Committee, and certainly in my view, the Government simply have not justified the wholesale delegation of powers in the Bill.
We are very pleased that the Government have gone some way towards rectifying the problem through their many amendments. In particular, we welcome the Government’s acceptance that the Henry VIII power in Clause 3(8) should be removed. The arguments for removing that power, as set out in the Delegated Powers Committee report, are overwhelming. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has cogently spelled out, exactly the same arguments apply to the Henry VIII power in Clause 6. I fully support the position that if the Government are unwilling to withdraw the Clause 6 Henry VIII power then the opinion of the House on this issue just has to be tested. I hope a vote will not actually be necessary—would it not be wonderful if the Government accepted this amendment along with the one on Clause 3?—but if there is one then I will be supporting the noble Baroness.
Our amendments to Clauses 8, 17 and 20 are less broad and the issues are therefore a bit less concerning. However, I have considerable reservations about Clause 10(2), which gives Ministers the power to rewrite Schedule 1 in part or indeed in its entirety. Surely that cannot be justified. Our Amendment 17 would delete that power. I hope the Minister will give the House some assurance that he will take this issue back for reconsideration.
I welcome the Government’s new commitment to consulting the devolved Administrations before making regulations under a number of clauses of the Bill. Whether that goes far enough will be debated at a later stage of Report and I therefore will not comment further on it here. I also welcome the Government’s commitment to review the use of Parts 1 and 2 as set out in the government amendments.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the speeches by the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Meacher, who have spoken with such cogency. I agree with them.
My name appears on Amendments 2, 7, 12, 17, 31 and 42 for two reasons. The first is that I was there at the beginning of devolution in Wales and have watched it develop in ways that were described earlier this afternoon by other noble Lords. It has been successful; it has brought the people of Wales much closer to government and resulted in faster decision-making than we ever had in the old days when the nearest we had to devolution, when I was a Member of another place, was the Welsh Grand Committee.
The second reason why I speak in favour of these amendments is a more general one. I have watched with surprise, and sometimes despair, the galloping tendency of government—and it has been successive Governments—to take more executive power through secondary legislation. Henry VIII must be very surprised, if he is aware of it at all, that his powers are being asked for so frequently and when they are not necessary.
I want to focus on Amendment 7 for I, like the noble Baronesses who have just spoken, welcome the addition of the name of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, to Amendment 2. That is truly welcome. When I first saw it, I thought it showed a thorough recognition of the issues at stake because it is a significant concession. All that we are asking on this side of the debate is consistency with regard to the non-discrimination principle. That principle is of as fundamental importance as the mutual recognition principle for markets to which the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has signed up in Amendment 2. They are plainly legislative siblings—indeed, they are almost identical twins—since they have a great deal of political and legislative DNA in common. Certainly they are equally important, and they are of equal moment in the devolved parts of the UK. I therefore feel bound to say that I am bemused by the lack of logic displayed by the Government’s failure to agree to Amendment 7 having agreed to Amendment 2.
I was talking earlier about the way in which devolution has worked. I can put that point very simply. These days in Wales, about which I know more than Scotland, legislative changes are brought about in real time as decisions become necessary. They are not always right—legislative changes are never always right—but at least there is an understanding by the public, those involved in politics in Wales and public servants in Wales that it is possible to make change. By that process, one has given a new self-respect regarding the way in which Wales is governed to elected Members, public officials and those who elect the elected Members.
What is still in Clause 6, the requirement for consultation without consent, is, unfortunately, a fig-leaf. It does not provide any reality to the role of Wales—on which I speak particularly—in this process because it can be overridden. Yes, reasons have to be given, but it is not very difficult to construct reasons. It relegates the devolved regions to a negligible role on matters directly affecting their interests. If it were necessary to do that, if that relegation could truly be demonstrated intellectually and logically as necessary, then I would be willing to support it, but I see no such explanation. Allowing executive powers in this way goes far beyond what is necessary.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and other noble Lords on tabling these amendments. I thank my noble friend Lord Callanan for supporting Amendment 2 and, in particular, for adopting government Amendment 35 as his own. I thank the Law Society of Scotland for its help, both in briefing me and in helping me to draft an earlier form of this amendment. I want to single out for praise Michael Clancy, whom I have known for many years. He works tirelessly on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland, and Scotland more broadly, to ensure that both Houses of Parliament and other sectors of Scotland are in tune with the constitutional implications of their thinking. I also thank my noble friend Lord Callanan for tabling government Amendments 29 and 47. They are inclusive in reaching out to consult the devolved Administrations.
Amendment 2 lays to rest the dangers of many of the original provisions in this Bill—particularly in relation to secondary legislation and Henry VIII powers— that did not find favour with your Lordships’ House. I remind the House of my interest as a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates. I shall pursue a similar line of thought to that expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in moving Amendment 2. I welcome government Amendments 29, 35 and 47, but perhaps we need to persuade the Government to move similarly further in other parts of the Bill. I shall seek to do so when the time comes. I congratulate my noble friends Lord Callanan and Lord True on their letter and thank them for listening to our concerns.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, made a superb opening speech. I also agree with everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. They were two superb speeches.
I want to raise something that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said in the last debate and with which I strongly disagree. He said that there is no debate in this House. This is an absolute fallacy. A normal debate is when one side puts its argument and the other side responds. What the noble Lord meant by “lively debate” is rude interruption. I do not see why we should accept that as normal debate; it simply is not. When I was first in this House, I found it extremely difficult because some rather nasty Peers interrupted my early speeches. It was very distracting for me and for those listening to me. I disagree completely with that concept of a debate. The reason we have no debate in this House is that we all agree that the Government’s legislation is rubbish. That is why there is no argument. Even the noble Lord agrees with the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Fox. We are all agreeing, apart from—well, sometimes the Minister agrees.
How dare anyone suggest that people in this Chamber have more of a right to speak than those outside? I have kept away from this House because I did not want to risk my life or other people’s. I care about this very much. Why should people in this red and gold bubble think they are entitled to a different sort of debate? I am here now only because I am so angry about some of the Bills coming through and I cannot express my fury well enough virtually and remotely; it does not come across through the screen. I do not want to be here. I am here only because it is the best way to get my point across. Those staying away are being more rational.
I return to the internal market Bill. We are reaching a point where Hansard should be given copy-and-paste versions of our speeches. We keep saying the same thing, particularly about the Henry VIII powers. I do not understand why the Government do not accept that it is not democratic for Ministers to continually grab bits of power for themselves because they think they have to make quick decisions. The Government are in an incredibly difficult situation and I have some sympathy for them. I cannot imagine how any Government could handle it perfectly, but they cannot keep grabbing bits of power. The Government should accept that Parliament can react quickly if it has to.
There are excessive powers in parts of the Bill that are infuriating. The experience of the last nine months shows that we should be sceptical of granting the Government any made-affirmative powers. The Bill already tramples over everything in the name of a free market. The Government want even more power to be even more destructive. I strongly oppose these powers and the government amendments. I believe that the Minister’s amendments should be withdrawn.
My Lords, apart from the interesting diversion by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, into wider issues affecting the House, there has been an air of unanimity in this debate. There has been unanimous support for the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and appreciation of the clear way in which she expounded the need for it. Of course, she is referring to Amendment 7 rather than Amendment 2.
It is unusual for my name and for that of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, to appear on the same amendment, although we have always had cordial relations. I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the case put to them—at least for this part of the Bill. On government Amendments 29 and 47, it would be churlish not to welcome the review of how delegated powers are used, but this does not answer the case against these powers being in the Bill at all. A number of speeches made that point very strongly.
Henry VIII powers—the Government’s ability to change statute law by means of secondary legislation—are repugnant in all but the narrowest of cases. They have become habitual—a “galloping tendency”, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile described them. They present Parliament with law that cannot be amended in almost all instances. They are not subject to effective parliamentary scrutiny, partly because of the Government’s control of the Commons agenda and timetable. They can be applied to devolved areas without consent, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, pointed out. From the Government’s point of view, and from the standpoint of legal certainty, it should be remembered that secondary legislation is open to legal challenge in a way that primary legislation is not.
What range of powers are we looking at in these amendments? Amendment 7 would remove a very wide power in Clause 6, allowing the Secretary of State by regulation to change the Act that this Bill will eventually become so as to vary, remove or add to parts of subsection (3). That subsection defines the statutory provisions relating to what is within the scope of the non-discrimination principle. It includes goods, transportation, display, certification and the conduct of businesses. That is where the Government’s offer of a review comes in, but I do not believe this meets the case for amending primary legislation by means of secondary legislation. It is wrong in principle and unnecessary in practice because primary legislation can be brought forward. Parliament can act quickly, and it is generally within the Government’s ability to ensure that it does so.
Secondary legislation is incapable of amendment by Parliament and not open to adequate scrutiny. That is why the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, and the Delegated Powers Committee have so often argued against the excessive use of secondary legislation, particularly in its Henry VIII form, and I think the case is a very powerful one. It is like the sea trying to wash away a piece of particularly hard rock: we occasionally make some progress with it but before very long we find that we are unable to effectively resist the Government’s permanent tendency to create powers of this kind.
If the noble Baroness decides to test the opinion of the House on this matter, Liberal Democrats will support her amendment.
My Lords, as I have said before, the women in the House always get a bit nervous when we talk about Henry VIII. We have only to go outside and see what happened to some of Henry VIII’s women to remind us that we are a bit uncomfortable with him.
The debate has made clear why the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Andrews and fellow members of our always brilliant Delegated Powers Committee should be heeded. Indeed, the unanswered question, posed by my noble friend, is why the Government have not removed the powers in Clause 6 in the way that they have now agreed to remove them in Clause 3. Why the inconsistency? What is the difference between them? Our Delegated Powers Committee certainly did not distinguish between the two pillars of the internal market—market access and non-discrimination— so we do not understand why the Government have taken such a different view on those. Without a stunning, innovative answer—the Minister looks as though he may have one, but there was none such in his letter of 12 November to the Delegated Powers Committee—when we come to Amendment 7 a little later, we will throw our weight behind it to remove the sections which, as the noble Lord, Lord Beith, has just set out, give overwhelming power to Ministers. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lady Andrews says, if these are meant to be just backstop powers to correct as yet-unknown deficiencies, then, given that Clause 13 affects all parts of the UK, it should be for Parliament, not Ministers in Westminster, to make any correction, with the full panoply of safeguards that come with primary legislation for input from the two Houses as well as from the devolved legislatures.
It is really not good enough—in a Bill which, after all, they must have known for four years they would need—for the Government at this stage still to be so unsure that they have thought of everything and drafted correctly that they need to accord to themselves these extraordinary powers to amend important parts of what will then be an Act of Parliament. That was never the purpose of secondary legislation. Indeed, as the Minister will know, we feel that it is likely that the proposed use of these ministerial powers is more the result of the Government’s tendency to rely on them rather on than proper primary legislation on a wide variety of measures. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, noted, so common has this become that my noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton wrote on behalf of the Constitution Committee to Mr Rees-Mogg on 9 November suggesting how to diminish the practice, while the noble Lords, Lord Hodgson and Lord Blencathra, from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee respectively, similarly wrote to Mr Rees-Mogg on 10 November, specifically with concerns about “skeleton bills and skeleton provision”, noting his acknowledgement that delegated powers
“should not be ‘a tool to cover imperfect policy development’”
and reiterating the need for the Government “at all times” to
“fully justify the appropriateness of delegated powers”.
I fail to hear such justification for these particular powers. Therefore, while welcoming the Government’s support for Amendment 2, we will support Amendments 7, 12 and the others in this group.
I am delighted that, because of the acceptance of Amendment 2, my Amendment 4 is pre-empted. For those who do not follow all this, Amendment 4 would have amended subsections (8) to (11), which was a regulation-making power. We were seeking to give the delegated legislatures a say over that. But clearly, as those powers have come out, my Amendment 4 luckily is pre-empted and not needed. However, we will return to similar amendments next week. For the moment, we welcome the moves of the Government on Amendment 2 and, in due course, unless the Minister comes up with a stunning answer in the next few minutes, we will support Amendment 7 in its place.
I thank everybody who has spoken in the debate so far. Just before we start, let me give my personal support—not a matter for the Government—to the gruesome twosome, the unholy alliance between the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Cormack. I hope that we can get back to full and proper debate in this Chamber as quickly as possible. I do not know about other noble Lords, but I quite miss the heckling from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes; it adds a bit of interest and spice to our debates. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, copes very well with debate in this Chamber, of which she is a noted exponent.
The Government have listened closely to the concerns from colleagues from all sides of the House and outlined in the DPRRC report. I thank your Lordships for the helpful debates that we had, and I hope noble Lords will think that I have responded at least to some of the points that were made. As I set out in my letter to colleagues last week, we listened closely to all your Lordships’ comments and, after further reflection, we are proposing a number of changes in line with many of those comments to how these powers will operate. The amendments will remove powers that are now, on further reflection, considered non-essential and will provide the fullest transparency and accountability in the use of those that remain. We hope that the package of changes proposed will address the concerns that were raised and provide some reassurance that the Government take their responsibilities seriously in administering these powers.
I understand from the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Andrews, and others that noble Lords intend to divide the House on this issue tonight. I hope that they will consider carefully what we hope will be very welcome steps before voting in a way that will have quite far-reaching consequences for the operation of the UK internal markets. Given that there are no other groupings today and next week on the delegated powers more generally, I hope that noble Lords will allow me to discuss this grouping in a little more detail.
First, the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, will remove the ability of the Secretary of State to amend the list of statutory requirements that are in scope of the mutual recognition principle for goods. While our position remains that the majority of the powers in the Bill are essential, as I said, in this particular case we are now content that the removal of the power will not substantially undermine the operation and flexibility of the internal market system. Therefore, we have removed the power—I have added my name to the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews—in combination with further changes on transparency and accountability that we are proposing.
Secondly, I have tabled an amendment that will remove the “made affirmative” power to make regulations amending Schedule 2 on exclusions from the market access principles for services. The Government have reassessed the balance between the need to make changes to Schedule 2 and the need to give Parliament sufficient opportunity to scrutinise any such changes. We have decided that it would be possible to make all of the necessary changes using the draft affirmative procedure. I believe that this amendment goes some way to address the concerns raised by the House about the use of these two powers.
Thirdly, I have tabled amendments that impose a new duty on the Secretary of State to review and lay a report before the House on how the powers in Parts 1 and 2 have been used. This duty affects the powers in Clauses 6, 8, 10, 17 and 20. The purpose of this amendment is to offer comfort to the House that the powers to make delegated legislation contained in Parts 1 and 2 will be scrutinised not only when they are being laid before Parliament, but in a more holistic way after a suitable period of time has elapsed. This dedicated review will ensure that individual uses of the power can be considered in the round, for example, taking into account cumulative impacts and those that could not have been foreseen prior to the change. The report has to be laid between three and five years after the Bill is passed. This will ensure that enough time has passed for the effect of the powers to be thoroughly and properly considered, while not waiting too long before the House has a chance to consider the evidence.
I understand the scepticism expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, about the independence and rigour of the review, but I reassure her that we are fully committed to carrying out this review thoroughly and rigorously. This will involve consultation with the devolved Administrations where the powers have been used to ensure that their views are accounted for. It will involve any relevant reports by the office for the internal market—an independent office—and the Secretary of State will provide evidence and justification as to why it was necessary to exercise the power and what impact it has had on the integrity of the market.
This is in line with further government amendments I have tabled, which were outlined in the “Dear colleagues” letter that a number of noble Lords were kind enough to refer to, requiring consultation with the devolved Administrations prior to the use of the powers I mentioned earlier. I will introduce these amendments in a later grouping. However, they again underline our commitment to effective consultation and transparency and to ensuring that the internal market works for all parts of the United Kingdom. I hope that this, together with the other amendments in my name, goes at least some way to addressing the concerns raised by noble Lords in previous stages, and I hope that the House will accept the amendments.
There are also a number of amendments in the group that seek to remove other delegated powers from the Bill. These amendments seek to remove the powers to amend the legitimate aims and exclusions for both goods and services, and the power to amend the list of relevant requirements for the non-discrimination principle for goods. The noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asked me why I support Amendment 2 but not Amendment 7. The reasons for removing that power with Amendment 2 do not read across to these other powers. As I said, we are content that removal of the Clause 3 power will not substantially undermine the operation and flexibility of the system.
However, these other powers deal with a completely different set of issues. The exclusions and legitimate objectives lists have been narrowly drafted to ensure that no limited barriers to free trade can be created. However, this list may need to adapt to respond to the feedback that we get from businesses and consumer stakeholders. The power will be subject to extensive oversight, as I have set out. However, removing these powers would make it impossible for the Government to respond to business and wider stakeholder feedback and act rapidly to adjust the list of exclusions if implementation shows the need for a review or if further areas are identified that need amending due to the shifting economic landscape.
For example, the remaining power in Clause 17(2) to amend the services exclusions in Schedule 2 is particularly relevant for sectors that are currently not applying the principle of mutual recognition as a result of retained EU law and for which such a sudden change could, therefore, be problematic. There is also a possibility that a need to amend the legitimate aims lists could arise. For example, there may be concerns in relation to future areas of regulation that could not have been foreseen at this time. Therefore, we are committed to keeping these powers to ensure that the system works as intended and as well as possible within our constitutional framework.
I also want to be clear that if the House agrees to the other amendments in addition to Amendment 7, which would remove other powers in the Bill, this would effectively render the Government’s concessions on Amendment 14 and others in the group redundant. For example, it would remove the power that the Government have offered a concession on through Amendment 14. Removing this power would affect the operation of the internal market. Your Lordships will also not be accepting the positive steps that the Government have taken to reach what we think is a compromise position that balances the concerns of the House and protects the internal market. However, as I hope I have shown, our existing commitments and the new amendments I have tabled will ensure that their use is subject to effective oversight and consultation.
To sum up, as I set out in Committee, any use of these powers would require an affirmative regulation to be made in Parliament. This will ensure that Parliament will be able to scrutinise and vote on any changes. Secondly, consultation with colleagues in the devolved Administrations is now a legislative requirement for the use of these powers. Finally, the exercise and effectiveness of these powers will be subject to the review I talked about earlier within five years. Together, this will provide what I think is the highest degree of accountability and scrutiny. With these remarks, I hope I have addressed the concerns expressed and outlined in Committee. Therefore, in the light of that, I hope that noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I have received a request to ask a short question of elucidation from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock.
My Lords, at a time when the role and, indeed, the very existence of this House is under increasing scrutiny, would the Minister agree that the fact that he has put his name to Amendment 2, and that he and the Government have accepted the spirit of many of the amendments that were moved in Committee, underlines the value of this second Chamber as a revising Chamber and that that is something that should be broadcast widely?
I am very grateful indeed to everyone who has taken part in this debate, particularly those noble Lords who signed my amendments. It has been a very useful and illuminating debate. I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed responses and, particularly, the information he has provided on the review. Retrospective reviews are always too late to improve or perfect what has happened, but I understand that this is a useful step forward, and I look forward to more detail.
I am afraid I am unable to accept his explanation of the difference between Amendments 2 and 7 in relation to the two clauses. I was struck by the use of the term “non-essential” powers, which was applied to Amendment 2 to Clause 3 and which has enabled the Government to sign the amendment, but made them unable, in the same sense, to apply the same logic to Clause 6.
Very briefly, I will read what the Delegated Powers Committee report actually said about Clause 6, which deals with non-discrimination:
“It suffers from similar defects”
to Clause 5. The report continues:
“The Government say … that the power in Clause 6(5) is necessary to ‘future-proof’ the operation of the non-discrimination principle. They might have said ‘to completely re-write’ the non-discrimination principle.”
We believe that the extreme degree of freedom that these powers give Ministers to go back almost to the drawing board and rewrite their own legislation by way of secondary legislation is so dangerous. Although the Minister has made a case for the distinction, I am afraid it is not one I can accept. Therefore, he will not be surprised when I say that I shall press Amendment 7 to a vote when we reach its place on the Marshalled List.
I say again that I am extremely grateful that the Government have responded so positively to the arguments of the DPRRC, the Constitution Committee and your Lordships, supported Amendment 2 and brought forward these other amendments, as outlined by the Minister this afternoon and in his letter. I beg to move.
Amendment 2 agreed.
My Lords, Amendment 3 has been pre-empted, so the debate on the group beginning with Amendment 3 will take place when Amendment 8 or 9 is called with the same list of speakers. Amendment 4 has been pre-empted, so this group therefore now consists of Amendment 5.
Amendment 5 not moved.
We move swiftly on to Amendment 6, and I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may only speak once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or any other in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
Clause 5: The non-discrimination principle for goods
6: Clause 5, page 4, line 29, after “part” insert “only”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies the meaning of Clause 5(3) regarding the effect of a statutory requirement under Clause 6.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak to and move Amendment 6, which I hope is self-explanatory. It seeks to clarify the meaning of Clause 5(3), regarding the effect of the statutory requirement under Clause 6. It should have read, just for greater clarification, “A relevant requirement (see section 6) is of no effect in the destination part but only if, and to the extent that”. That is a compromise we reached for greater understanding of the text.
The effect of Clause 5(3) will be to render a discriminatory statutory provision in UK or devolved legislation of no effect. I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for co-signing this amendment. In Committee, we had reservations about the meaning of “no effect”, because it lacked clarity. That was the view put forward by the Law Society of Scotland, which has helped me to draft this amendment.
My noble friend Lord Callanan confirmed in Committee that:
“Clause 5(3) will operate so that any future requirements that fall within the scope of the non-discrimination principle will be of no effect to the extent that they are discriminatory. For the benefit of the lawyers, this does not mean that the requirement is to be treated as if it never had any legal effect. Rather, it allows the continued operation of the requirement, except to the extent that it has discriminatory effects.”
The amendment therefore seeks to emphasise that the lack of effect relates only to the discriminatory element of the statutory requirement and does not otherwise affect the validity of the requirement. I hope that my noble friend will take the opportunity to confirm that that is the case.
There is also concern about the application of Clause 5(3) to a statutory provision in an Act of Parliament. My noble friend Lord Callanan confirmed that:
“As the Bill deals with trade across the whole of the United Kingdom, the intention is that this will apply to all legislation: secondary legislation, primary legislation passed by devolved legislatures and legislation passed by the UK Parliament.”—[Official Report, 28/10/20; col. 251.]
Under Clause 49, legislation means, inter alia, primary legislation, which includes an Act of Parliament. Therefore, we know that this provision means that such an Act will be of no effect to the extent that it is discriminatory under the Bill. I am minded to repeat the words of the noble Lord, Lord Beith, who mentioned that secondary legislation can be open to interpretation by the courts. I would be most grateful if my noble friend could clarify and further benefit us with his understanding of this provision.
I also comment briefly on Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and others, with which I have some sympathy, as it ensures continued compliance with the principle of non-regression in Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol. That is a worthy aim, and I admire the enthusiasm and energy with which the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has pursued this in the interests of her nation. With those few remarks, I beg to move and wait to hear the response of my noble friend to this little debate.
My Lords, I speak in support of both amendments in this group. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has already explained the purpose of Amendment 6. Amendment 24 is in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain.
We have been contacted by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which have agreed to act as a dedicated mechanism responsible for the monitoring, supervising, advising and reporting on and enforcing the UK’s commitment, under Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol to the withdrawal agreement from the end of the transition period. They believe that this amendment is needed to ensure that the Bill is brought into compliance with the UK’s obligation under Article 2 of the protocol to the EU/UK withdrawal agreement.
The problem with the Bill as currently drafted arises when Clause 5 is read in conjunction with Clause 6. The commissions’ research only came to light while we were in Committee, as they were awaiting senior counsel’s advice, hence the only opportunity to have brought forward this amendment is now, on Report. I thank all noble Lords who have signed the amendment and hope that your Lordships’ House accepts that explanation.
Clause 5(1) provides that:
“The non-discrimination principle for goods is the principle that the sale of goods in one part of the United Kingdom should not be affected by relevant requirements that directly or indirectly discriminate against goods that have a relevant connection with another part of the United Kingdom.”
It may appear, on superficial reading, that Clause 5 applies only to goods and not, for example, to statutory requirements regarding employment conditions. This is incorrect, however, because Clause 6(3) provides details of what constitutes “relevant requirements” for the purposes of Clause 5(1):
“A statutory provision is within the scope of the non-discrimination principle if it relates to any one or more of the following—
(a) the circumstances or manner in which goods are sold (such as where, when, by whom, to whom, or the price or other terms on which they may be sold);
(b) the transportation, storage, handling or display of goods;
(c) the inspection, assessment, registration, certification, approval or authorisation of the goods or any similar dealing with them;
(d) the conduct or regulation of businesses that engage in the sale of certain goods or types of goods.”
The effect of these provisions, therefore, is to bring statutory provisions regarding employment conditions, including legislation regulating wages, which apply to those selling goods, within the scope of the non-discrimination requirement in Clause 5(1). This means that equality legislation regarding employment conditions introduced in Northern Ireland in order to comply with the non-diminution requirement in Article 2 of the protocol must be protected.
If there is a challenge to such employment legislation, it is not clear that the legislation can be defended on the grounds that it can, as set out in Clause 8 of the Bill,
“reasonably be considered a necessary means of achieving a legitimate aim.”
Clause 8 defines what constitutes a legitimate aim. This appears to be an exhaustive list and does not include, for example, compliance with an international treaty as a legitimate aim. To illustrate the potential impact of the Bill on the Article 2 obligation, I will set out an example of additional requirements on employers in Northern Ireland that could be introduced as a result of changes to the Annexe 1 directives that deal with the wide panoply of equality directives that could be challenged under the Bill. It is not possible to predict the exact nature and extent of future EU changes to the Annexe 1 equality directives, including new obligations on employers.
However, taking into consideration EU equality law changes already made, recent European Commission proposals and plausible future scenarios, there is a reasonable prospect that over time, the Annexe 1 directives dealing with all equality matters may be updated, amended or replaced, and additional EU requirements on employers introduced. Employers in Great Britain may consider that these changes negatively impact on their businesses and influence an employer’s decision to employ staff in Northern Ireland, and thus to provide goods in Northern Ireland, and would therefore be challengeable as indirectly discriminatory under the Bill. The equal pay example can be characterised with the EU amending or replacing the existing equal treatment directive to incorporate extended equal pay obligations on employers.
As a result of these additional requirements, an employer in Great Britain with a predominantly female workforce could decide not to employ staff in Northern Ireland and could consider that there is more limited market access in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain. Using the indirect discrimination prohibition in the Bill, the employer could challenge legislation enacted by the Northern Ireland Assembly to comply with these new obligations. Other examples could be given relating to disability discrimination, race equality, equal pay audits and gender pay reporting.
To comply with Article 2 of the protocol, there is a need to ensure that any such additional requirements on employers in Northern Ireland, introduced to keep Northern Ireland equality law aligned with future EU changes to the equality directives in Annexe 1, cannot be challenged as indirectly discriminatory under the Bill. I therefore urge the Government to accept this amendment and ask the Minister to accept a letter from me, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission, which will outline in depth their main concerns about this issue. Will he meet with us and the other signatories to the amendment to discuss these issues? I honestly believe that the amendment would provide legal clarity and certainty, including for employers who have responsibility under Article 2 of the protocol.
My Lords, I am delighted to speak in support of Amendment 6, moved so well by the indefatigable noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who has done such a good job in moving amendments in Committee and on Report. I endorse the tribute that she gave earlier to the equally indefatigable Michael Clancy of the Law Society of Scotland, who has helped us draft these amendments and examine the Bill in detail. It must be a greatly satisfying reward for his hard work to see some of his suggestions incorporated into legislation. I am sure we all endorse the thanks to him.
I underline one point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. The amendment emphasises that the lack of effect relates only to the discriminatory element of the statutory requirement and does not otherwise affect its validity. I hope the Minister will therefore feel able to accept the amendment. I am sure he would not want to encourage discrimination in any form.
My Lords, I too wish to speak to Amendment 24, so ably addressed by my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, to which I have added my name. As she said, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have explained why the amendment is necessary. It ensures that any legislation introduced in Northern Ireland after the UK leaves the EU must comply with the UK Government’s obligations under the withdrawal agreement: to implement in Northern Ireland certain amendments to, or replacements of, EU law, where this is necessary to ensure continued compliance with the principle of non-diminution under Article 2 of the protocol; and to keep Northern Ireland law in alignment with EU amendments to, or replacements of, the listed equality directives in Annexe 1 to the protocol.
The commissions have briefed us and are concerned about the Bill’s effect on the UK’s obligations under Article 2 of the protocol, in which the UK Government have committed to ensuring that there will be no diminution in Northern Ireland of vitally important rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity specified in the relevant part of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, resulting from the UK’s exit from the EU. This commitment is binding on the UK Government and Parliament, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly, as a matter of international law.
EU law, particularly EU anti-discrimination law, has formed an important part of the framework for delivering the guarantees on rights and equality set out in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and for ensuring that rights and equality protections continue to be upheld in Northern Ireland. However, after the end of the transition period, individuals would be able to bring challenges to the Article 2(1) commitment directly before the domestic courts and take judicial review proceedings to challenge the compatibility of Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly actions or legislation with the Article 2(1) commitment. If the Northern Ireland Assembly failed to introduce legislation required to ensure that Northern Ireland law was in alignment with EU amendments to, or replacements of, the listed equality directives in Annexe 1 to the protocol, that failure could be challenged by individuals. Such challenges would mean that individuals would not be able to benefit from any additional EU equality rights provided for under legislation implemented in Northern Ireland so as to ensure compliance with Article 2.
That could create considerable opportunity for sectarian mischief of the kind that has sadly bedevilled politics in Northern Ireland, despite the massive progress made in the last two decades. The provisions of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill could undermine these obligations and commitments. For example, Article 13(3) of the protocol ensures equality legislation in Northern Ireland which, as my noble friend Lady Ritchie said, places additional requirements on employers in Northern Ireland, which is so important, given the discrimination historically practised against Catholics.
However, because there is no requirement under the withdrawal agreement for the UK Government to make similar changes to the equality legislation in Great Britain, there is the possibility that there could be greater equality requirements on employers in Northern Ireland than on employers in Great Britain. There is therefore a possibility that an employer in Great Britain may decide not to employ staff in Northern Ireland and, as a result, could consider that there is more limited market access in the provision of goods and services in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain.
Ministers have shown during Brexit a casual and, I am afraid, sometimes contemptuous disregard for its impact on Northern Ireland, but establishing really strong equality and human rights legislation has been crucial to eliminating the deep and historic grievances, suffered by the Catholic population especially, that provided fertile ground for paramilitarism. The stakes are very high—hence this important amendment, which I very much hope the Minister, when he replies, will support.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Suttie, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to which I have attached my name.
First, I shall reflect briefly on the earlier words of my noble friend and the response of the Minister. I believe that this is highly relevant to this debate and to the nature of the Bill. We have, on one side, a combative politics of struggle and conflict—the politics of “Gotcha” —and, on the other side, our side, an attempt to work together to achieve a good outcome with which a large majority are at least comfortable, if not 100% satisfied: the politics of compromise. That, I believe, reflects the two sides of the debate about the Bill. I am a former rugby player and I do understand the pleasures of a crunching tackle, but I do not think that that is an approach that produces good outcomes for the people we are here to represent.
Going back to the specifics of the amendment, the noble Baroness, in introducing it, set out a precise and detailed explanation of the legal circumstances and the need for this clause. I do not intend to repeat that. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, has just laid out, from a position of great knowledge and experience, how this reflects the need to protect vital parts of the Good Friday agreement: rights and equalities protections. These are vital things that the Government would surely not want to downgrade.
We have a very long night ahead of us, so I shall add just one additional reflection to their words, while echoing everything they have said. I note that earlier, the noble Lord, Lord True, for the Government, said that he was concerned that the common frameworks process would create uncertainty for business. I suggest that what the speakers before me have made very clear is that, without this amendment, we have a great deal of legal uncertainty and lack of clarity, with conflicting responsibilities. That is something that creates a great deal of uncertainty for business—although, perhaps, lots of work for lawyers, reflecting many Members of your Lordships’ House. But that is not what we should be aiming for. We have some fundamental issues, concerns, rights and balances to protect here, so I commend the amendment to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. She makes very many important points, and I hope that noble Lords listened to them this evening. This has been a short but deeply important debate and I shall speak in support of Amendment 24, to which I have added my name. As has already been said, it is a cross-party amendment signed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has already comprehensively explained, the purpose of this amendment is to raise very real concerns about the potential impact on the obligations under Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which ensures that there will be no reduction of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland, as set out in the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, following the end of the transition period in just over six weeks’ time. Article 13(3) of the protocol obliges Northern Ireland to remain in alignment with EU equality directives, as set out in Annexe 1. This amendment would ensure that Northern Ireland could not be challenged under the Clause 5 non-discrimination principle as set out in the Bill if, in future, it has to make certain changes to the law to ensure that it remains aligned to EU standards after the United Kingdom has left the European Union.
At present, all parts of the United Kingdom are aligned under EU law covering equality issues, but this will not necessarily always be the case. I will take the specific example of equal pay. Currently, the whole of the United Kingdom is covered by the equal treatment directive, but if, in the near future, the EU amends that directive to incorporate extended equal pay obligations on employers, the new obligations would have to be introduced in Northern Ireland but not in Great Britain. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, spelled out very clearly, it is possible to imagine that a British company with a predominantly female workforce might decide not to employ staff in Northern Ireland. Under the indirect discrimination prohibition in the Bill, it is not inconceivable that the employer could then challenge the Northern Ireland legislation that had been put in place to comply with Article 13(3) of the protocol. It is also possible to imagine similar scenarios following future amendments to EU race, equality and disability directives, for example.
The Government will no doubt reply that it is not their intention to reduce standards in UK equalities legislation following the end of the transition period. But it is equally unlikely that, in years to come, Britain will follow and replicate every future amendment to EU equalities directives. This amendment is therefore really about future proofing. This is a complex matter. All legislation is capable of resulting in unintended consequences, but it is surely important to anticipate future problems now and to provide potential solutions to safeguard against such problems.
In his concluding remarks, I would be very grateful if the Minister could reassure the House that the Government have thought through how the non-discrimination principle set out in Clauses 5 and 6 will operate in practice in Northern Ireland, given the pre-existing commitments set out in Articles 2 and 13(3) of the Northern Ireland protocol. Equally, I would be grateful if he could give assurances that there will be no reduction in the mandate for the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to oversee the Government’s implementation of Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol. I conclude by echoing the request of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, for a meeting with the Minister and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to discuss these matters further.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and my noble friend Lord Foulkes have made the case clearly around the issue raised in Clause 5(3), and I hope the Minister will be able to respond. I join them in thanking the Scottish Law Commission for its considerable work in scrutinising some of the detail of the Bill—as always, it has been very helpful. I put on record our thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, for her very comprehensive and clear explanation of Amendment 24 in her name, and to others who have spoken.
We on this side had the benefit of a presentation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on this point, and I was seized by the fact that this is very important indeed to them and a matter that really has to be dealt with. The ground has been covered very fully and I just want to make sure that it is clear that we support this important amendment. It is designed to ensure that the non-discrimination principle in Clause 5 cannot be used to challenge the statutory provisions introduced in Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period to fulfil the obligation set out in Article 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol. That is relatively easy to say, but it is rather difficult to see how it translates into legislation. I hope that, when he responds, the Minister will be able to give us clarity on this.
As my noble friend Lord Hain said, the stakes here are very high. If you have not been to Northern Ireland, it is sometimes very difficult to get why it is so important to the people there and to the institutions that have to operate within Northern Ireland. There is a very widespread respect for human rights and equalities issues in Northern Ireland; it is something that comes up in conversations wherever you have them, in relation to employment, services, goods and operating in the commercial sector in Northern Ireland. Once you have had that conversation, and once it has been explained to you why it is so important, it is very clear that this is a matter that cannot be left. It is up to the Government to explain now how it is going to happen, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate.
Amendment 6, in the names of my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, seeks to clarify the meaning of Clause 5(3). This subsection explains that
“A relevant requirement … is of no effect in the destination part if, and to the extent that, it directly or indirectly discriminates against the incoming goods.”
This wording was chosen by the Government because it targets discrimination, while leaving intact other elements of a regulation that may be perfectly useful or serviceable. For example, consider the case of one requirement covering two products. One of those products is not discriminated against, but the other faces indirect discrimination due to the particular market structure for that product. Clause 5 ensures that the regulation of the product which is not facing discrimination continues. This would not be the case if the requirement were struck down in its entirety when any part of it is discriminatory.
This amendment gives rise to a risk that a court would read this as attempting to oust its jurisdiction on normal grounds of challenge. That is clearly not the intention of this provision, which is to target the mischief of discrimination without going further or interfering with other legislation. I am sure that it goes without saying that we would not want to invoke any such confusion, nor do I think that that is what my noble friend and the noble Lord are trying to achieve. For these reasons, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
On Amendment 24, from the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and others, I am very happy to accept a letter from the noble Baroness, and I will ensure that it gets a full reply. The Government are fully committed to Article 2 of the protocol—that goes without saying. We have demonstrated this by making the necessary amendments to the Northern Ireland Act to establish the dedicated mechanism and by working closely with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland to operationalise the dedicated mechanism, ready for the end of the transition period.
The Article 2 commitment is about protecting the specific rights that individuals are afforded under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and non-discrimination in this regard. It is supported by six EU equality directives that are all designed to tackle discrimination because of specified protected characteristics of individuals and to promote equal treatment. It will be part of the role of both commissions, through the dedicated mechanism structure, to monitor, advise, report on and enforce the Article 2 commitment and report to the Government and the Executive Office in Northern Ireland in this regard.
As I have said, we have already delivered the relevant legislative measures to give effect to Article 2 of the protocol, and no further amendments are required in this regard. I can assure noble Lords that the rights for individuals in Northern Ireland captured within the scope of the Article 2 commitment will continue to be protected going forward and will not be impacted by the outworkings of this Bill.
In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, I can say that, for statutory requirements to be relevant requirements under Clause 6, they must be requirements that apply to, or in relation to, goods sold in the nation in question. If the employment law requirement were to meet that test, they would not be disapplied because they had discriminatory effects.
I hope that, with those assurances, that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, will not press Amendment 24.
I call the Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.