Commons Reasons and Amendments
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
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My Lords, I will address Amendments 1F, 1G, 1H, 1J, 1K and 1L. Last week, the other place was clear in its disagreement with Amendments 1B, 1C and 1D when it removed them from this Bill.
I appreciate the ongoing contributions of noble Lords to these debates on the interactions between the market access principles and common frameworks. I very much welcome the constructive engagement we have had on this issue since last Wednesday. In particular, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for his continued contribution and for his willingness to engage in ongoing dialogue on his amendments, which he has tabled in lieu.
There have also been constructive conversations with the Labour Front Bench over the past week, for which I am grateful. I look forward to continuing discussions with the noble Baroness opposite and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, in seeking to bridge the gap between our two positions. I should also express my appreciation of the helpful contributions and advice from my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
As I said in the House last week, the previous amendments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would have created a broad regime of exclusions from the market access principles, which would have denied businesses and consumers much-needed clarity regarding the terms of trade within which they operate. The Government have been clear throughout these debates that we agree on the need for an exclusions regime, but one that is carefully drafted and provides certainty for business. In drafting the Bill, specifically Clauses 10 and 17, the Government have designed an exclusions approach that achieves a careful balance.
I understand the aim of the noble and learned Lord’s revision to his amendment, which is to further specify the interaction between divergence agreed under common frameworks and exclusions to the market access principles. However, our assessment remains that the approach in these amendments goes too far in both the breadth of the exclusions it may require the Secretary of State to create and the uncertainty it could lead to. This runs counter to the certainty that the Bill is designed to provide.
To further emphasise the Government’s position, I will take the opportunity to clarify some of the points noble Lords raised during our debate last week. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, expressed concern that traders may need to consider relevant regulations in different parts of the United Kingdom. I reiterate that the mutual recognition principle provides reassurance for traders, in that as long as they comply with local relevant requirements they do not need to worry about those other parts. This is the advantage of our proposed approach: we have carefully created an architecture that means that a trader will have clarity regarding the rules they should follow. As I have said before, the uncertainty introduced by the wholesale exclusions from the market access principles afforded by the amendment should not be supported by the House.
The common frameworks process will encourage a conversation about a common approach and so provide for consensus-based decision-making in sectoral areas of the economy. However, the Government believe that common frameworks on their own cannot determine where matters should or should not be in scope of the market access principles. That is a job for the UK Parliament and for MPs from the whole of the United Kingdom.
The Government also believe that the system they have designed should create a proper balance between the independent operation of devolved powers and the automatic application of the principles that protect the market and give certainty. The Government have been clear in Parliament about our commitment to the common frameworks programme, which I repeat today, and the value we attach to the fora that common frameworks provide for collaborative working with the devolved Administrations. As noble Lords are aware, the common frameworks programme provides an avenue for discussing ways of working and as such is primarily concerned with processes rather than determining specific policy outcomes.
The programme aims to put in place durable arrangements for intergovernmental working between the Government and the devolved Administrations, and our intention remains that these mechanisms for co-operation on specific policy areas will allow for coherent policy-making between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations in those policy areas. For this reason, we think that the common frameworks programme is complementary to the mechanisms set out in the Bill, and I respectfully suggest again that the approach put forward in the amendments is contrary to the Government’s responsibility to provide businesses with the certainty they need to operate across the United Kingdom. I repeat my gratitude to other noble Lords for the constructive conversations that have been taking place.
Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)
At end insert “but do propose Amendments 1F, 1G, 1H, 1J, 1K and 1L in lieu—
1F: Clause 10, page 7, line 23, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must by regulations under subsection (2) exclude the application of the United Kingdom market access principles to a statutory provision or requirement that gives effect to a decision to diverge from harmonised rules that has been agreed through the common frameworks process.”
1G: Clause 15, page 9, line 27, at end insert—
“( ) “Common frameworks process” means the process, established by the Joint 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 the devolved governments.”
1H: Clause 17, page 12, line 42, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must by regulations under subsection (2) add the services referred to in a statutory provision or requirement that gives effect to a decision to diverge from harmonised rules that has been agreed through the common frameworks process to the authorisation requirements in Part 3 of Schedule 2 or the list of regulatory requirements, as the case may be, to which section 18 (mutual recognition) or sections 19 and 20 (non-discrimination) do not apply.”
1J: Clause 21, page 14, line 35, at end insert—
“common frameworks process” means the process, established by the Joint 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 the devolved governments;”
1K: Clause 25, page 19, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must by regulations subject to the affirmative resolution procedure exclude the application of section 22(2) to a provision which has been agreed through the common frameworks process.”
1L: Clause 27, page 21, line 19, at end insert—
“common frameworks process” means the process, established by the Joint 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 the devolved governments;”
My Lords, in moving Motion A1, I shall speak to Amendments A1F to A1L in my name.
I am grateful to the Minister in the other place, Chloe Smith, and her Bill team, for taking time to discuss the common frameworks issue with me last Thursday. I am also grateful to the Minister for taking time on a busy day to attend that meeting, and for his very helpful introduction to this debate. As a result of that meeting, both sides now have a much better understanding of the issues that divide us. We are much closer to a solution, but we are not quite there yet, which is why I have tabled these amendments in lieu, and why I will be seeking the opinion of the House on them at the end of this debate, so that we can continue this discussion.
These amendments I now offer to the House contain two very significant changes from those disagreed to by the other place. First, I have removed a provision designed to protect the common frameworks process while it was in progress. It was objected to as it would have created delays and legal uncertainty. I recognise that it was not in the interests of the internal market, so it has gone. There should be absolutely no misunderstanding about that. Secondly, I have changed my approach to the way in which the common frameworks issue should be fitted in to the Bill, now seeking to use mechanisms already in the Bill to achieve that result. Their purpose is twofold: to cure the inconsistency between the Government’s support for the common frameworks on the one hand and its promotion of the market access principles on the other—which does not fit in with the Minister’s word “complementary” a moment ago—and to provide certainty so that everyone will know what the measure that needs protection is and why it is there.
One of the principles agreed between all four nations when the common frameworks process was set up in 2017 was that, as the devolution settlement required, it allowed for policy divergence where this was within devolved competence. However, a decision to diverge will be agreed under that process only if all the parties to it, including the UK Government, are satisfied after careful examination and assessment of its nature and effect that the decision will not create a barrier to trade across the UK. The Bill’s market access principles, on the other hand, operate automatically. As the Bill stands, a measure that gives effect to an agreed decision to diverge can be ignored by traders bringing goods in from other areas. This undermines the opportunity to diverge, rendering it worthless and ineffective. With reference to the Minister’s comment on what I was saying about uncertainty last time, my concern is not with traders bringing goods in across borders; they have the protection of the market access principles and their position is plain. My concern is with traders doing business within their own areas, having to decide what articles they could properly and safely put for sale on their shelves. That is no kind of answer.
The effect of the amendments is that the Secretary of State will be required by regulations to direct that the market access principles will not apply to a measure of the kind I have described. The UK Government will therefore be involved at every stage of the process. I stress that the decision cannot be put into effect unless the UK Government have agreed to it, and it is only the UK Government, through the Secretary of State, who can give it the immunity it needs.
I emphasise once again that my intention is not to create barriers. It is about allowing for policy divergence in ways found by this process to be consistent with the internal market. I hope that those noble Lords who have drawn on their long experience of what makes businesses work, which this House values so much during our debates, are reassured on that point. At heart this is an issue about devolution. It was because of devolution that the common frameworks process, and the opportunity for policy divergence, was instituted with the encouragement of the UK Government in the first place. Their support for that process must involve support for policy divergence too.
As we continue our discussions, it may be suggested that what I am looking for could be met by assurances, but we are dealing here with arrangements designed to last for a long time. They need to bind future Governments as well as this one. That is why they must be in the Bill. The process of refining my proposals has been rather like opening a Christmas present buried within layer after layer of paper. Eventually it is revealed, smaller that the wrapping led one to expect, and one wonders why it took so much paper. I am afraid it has taken me some time to reduce my proposals to their essentials, but that is where I am now. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for clearly setting out his objections to the last set of amendments. In his closing words he said that the Government view the common frameworks process as complementary to the market access principles. Listening to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, it was very clear that there is a discontinuity—a lack of complementariness—between the two positions. As the noble and learned Lord set out, a central feature of the framework agreement is to come to an agreed process for divergence between the four nations, within which the UK has a major role. That divergence is killed off by the automatic nature of the market access principles. That is the central point that the noble and learned Lord’s amendments address. In doing so, the new versions of the amendments have taken on board the comments that have come back from the other place, having recognised the level of uncertainty that could have been injected by a previous proposed new clause, which has now been removed. The amendments adopt the regulations within the Bill to facilitate that decision, so that it is consistent with the way that the Bill seeks to operate, but also consistent with the principles of devolution that have served this country so well to date.
My Lords, perhaps we need to remember why we are here. It is really quite simple. When the case for Brexit was all about “taking back control”, we failed to understand that the Government meant taking control to themselves, even over issues that were fully devolved. However, when the Bill was published—without any involvement from the devolved authorities, remember—we soon discovered that it ran roughshod over devolved competences, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, trumping the common frameworks programme.
I have often wondered whether this was deliberate or an oversight, though the lack of prior consultation suggests the former. However, that makes the statement on the publication of the Bill, on 9 September, signed by the Scottish Secretary but not the Welsh Secretary, and by Mr Sharma and Mr Gove, a bit strange in the light of this Bill. It says that the devolved Administrations will enjoy a “power surge” when the transition period ends.
Let us take that at face value. Perhaps the particular construction of the Bill was clumsy—as an oversight rather than deliberate—and perhaps it is right that the Government did not intend to bring back to themselves all the powers long devolved to the other three authorities, but in that case the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, would rectify the problem. They would simply restrict the market access powers in the Bill, which of course are only about devolved competences, to those where the four-party process failed to reach agreement.
As the Government are one of those four parties, they will be in a very strong position to revert to the Bill, and to Parliament, for the powers they feel are vital for an internal market on areas where disagreement cannot be overcome. That seems, to this side of the House, a simple, clean solution. It would hard-wire in a common frameworks process which the Government themselves described last week in the latest of their three-monthly reports on the frameworks—reports which, I think, we added to Schedule 3 to the EU withdrawal Bill as a requirement for the Government to publish—as
“an agreed approach to ensuring regulatory coherence”
in devolved areas. That is absolutely spot on—coherence, not uniformity—and that is probably where we are trying to get to. The problem is that, as written, the Bill adopts “uniformity”.
The same document, which has just been published, despite having talked about coherence, then asserts:
“Common Frameworks cannot guarantee the integrity of the entire UK Internal Market.”
However, the document does not provide any evidence of why the frameworks will not work. It gives no examples of where, within devolved competences, any agreements might not work. Indeed, the Minister, in introducing the debate, again asserted that it would have to be for Parliament alone to decide when the market access rules would not be used, but he did not explain why the four-party process would not be able to deal with that and why they would come to Parliament only when there was a failure to agree. The same document notes the “freezing power” contained in the withdrawal Act, and it also notes that it has never needed to be used, but it fails to suggest where it might be needed.
Therefore, in the Bill the Government are saying that on the one hand the frameworks are very good and have been able to produce coherence but, on the other hand, the Bill allows the market access principles to trump that process, even if it produces agreement.
We have it said before and I say it again: we on this side of the House want an internal market which thrives and serves the needs of business, the professions, consumers and the environment, but it has to be one that respects rather than dismantles devolution. These amendments seem to us to offer the path to achieve that, so we will support the noble and learned Lord when, as I am sure he will do, he asks the House to vote. I hope that in the light of that vote we can, as the Minister suggested, continue the dialogue so that we can reach an agreed position that would safeguard all that has been going on with the devolution settlements and the common frameworks process but, in the last analysis, would of course come back here.
My Lords, once again, I am very grateful to those who have contributed to the debate. Although the cast is smaller, I know that the interest is no less great. The sense of respect for the devolved institutions, which has gone right across your Lordships’ debates on the Bill, is important and shared by all of us, however we view the question raised in the amendments.
I also thank all those who have participated in the ongoing dialogue outside your Lordships’ House on this matter. Naturally, I will shortly seek to persuade your Lordships not to support the noble and learned Lord’s Motion for the reasons I have given, but the strength of feeling expressed in this House and in the other place is testament to the important role that common frameworks play in intergovernmental working and this country’s future outside the European Union, and indeed within the overall structure of intergovernmental relations within the United Kingdom.
The Government are committed to working with the devolved Administrations to deliver these agreements to the benefit of people from all four corners of the United Kingdom, and we welcome the strong support that has been shown for common frameworks by both Houses, not least by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in his noble efforts to unwrap a Christmas parcel. I am sure that the jewel of mutual respect is there, whatever the outcome of the debates on this question.
Common frameworks allow the Government and the devolved Administrations to engage in meaningful dialogue about how all parts of the country can benefit from the new powers flowing from the European Union. I say to the noble Baroness opposite that they are flowing from the European Union. However, common frameworks are primarily concerned with processes rather than determining specific policy outcomes, and as such they do not obviate the need for the market access principles in these areas. I believe it is common ground across this Chamber that it is for the United Kingdom Parliament and its Members from all four nations to have a role in safeguarding a market across all parts of the United Kingdom.
Common frameworks are not intended to be an all-encompassing solution to the maintenance of that internal market. The Government’s belief is that additional legislative protection provided by this Bill will provide certainty for the status quo of internal UK trade. Broad disapplication of elements of the Bill risks removing that certainty, which is needed for business and citizens in all four parts of the United Kingdom. Again, I believe that is a common objective. For that reason, we believe both common frameworks and the market access principles—if the word “complementary” is not cared for, I will say “working in tandem”—to be necessary to guarantee the integrity of the entire United Kingdom internal market.
The security that this Bill provides is crucial for the people and businesses of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is essential that we ensure that this certainty is provided in all areas, including in the devolved policy areas, where powers flow from the European Union to London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
Of course, I hear the arguments and representations put forward in the characteristically modest approach of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, but the Government’s belief is that we cannot afford to risk denying our citizens the ability to trade seamlessly across the United Kingdom, as they do now. I hope this is something that your Lordships’ House can agree with, and I hope that, in order to provide this certainty, the noble and learned Lord will find himself able to withdraw his Motion. In the event that he is unable to do so, the remarks that I made earlier obviously stand.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have contributed to this short debate. I would like to pick up on some words that the Minister said in his reply. The words “mutual respect” have characterised the meetings that I have been privileged to take part in as we have moved towards the position that I am adopting. I think it is a very healthy system that allows us to conduct these discussions in such a manner as we seek out the positions that each of us is trying to adopt and possible ways of accommodating them.
At the end of the day, as I have said on a number of occasions, it really is up to the Government. I am looking to them to facilitate in some way the process by which an agreed decision to diverge, which has gone through all the processes of the common frameworks system, may be protected against the sharp edges of the internal market principles. I do not believe that that will in any way disrupt the workings of the internal market; indeed, there are benefits from allowing the devolved Administrations to develop their ideas in a way that is consistent with the internal market by the use of this process and the opportunity for divergence that it allows for.
The Minister has invited me to withdraw my Motion, but in truth I cannot properly do that, given that we are in a process of continuing discussion and we have not yet had a proposal from the Government that provides a solution to the problem that I am seeking to address in my amendments. For those reasons, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 8L to which the Commons have disagreed, do not insist on its insistence on its Amendments 13 and 56 to which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 15C.
15C: Clause 10, page 7, line 25, at end insert—
“(4) Before making regulations under subsection (2), the Secretary of State must seek the consent of the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.
(5) If consent to the making of the regulations is not given by any of those authorities within the period of one month beginning with the day on which it is sought from that authority, the Secretary of State may make the regulations without that consent.
(6) If regulations are made in reliance on subsection (5), the Secretary of State must publish a statement explaining why the Secretary of State decided to make the regulations without the consent of the authority or authorities concerned.”
My Lords, this group covers Amendment 8M, which relates to exclusions from the market access principles. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has made changes to the amendment since the debate was last in this House. These move the proposed exclusions text from Clause 10 to Schedule 1 and narrow the list of reasons for derogating from the market access principles to two: environmental standards and protection, and the protection of public health.
While this acknowledgement of the issues created by replacing Clause 10 with a lengthy list of exclusions is appreciated by the Government, it does not address our fundamental problems with this approach. The noble Lord’s Amendment 8M would cut right across the Government’s objectives and leave businesses exposed to new burdens and barriers. Despite the reduced list of aims, vast amounts of public policy could be excluded from the market access principles.
I have previously explained that the narrow approach to exclusions that we have taken ensures that certain policy areas can work effectively within the clearly defined market access principles. Many of these, such as the exclusion relating to threats to human, animal or plant health, will ensure that necessary environmental and public health measures can continue to operate under the bespoke constraints necessary in those areas, all without the need for the wide-ranging environmental and public health derogations which the amendment, even in its revised form, would add to Schedule 1.
However, the way in which the noble Lord’s list of exclusions would work with the test in his proposed new paragraph is also problematic, as I shall explain. To be excluded, a requirement must only “make a contribution to” the achievement of one of the aims from the list, meaning that a policy need only have an extremely tangential relationship to a social policy objective to be taken out of scope.
The amendment would also lead to uncertainty as to when the market access principles applied, not least by a very unusual use of the term “proportionate”. It would fall to courts to determine the relative extents to which different policies met one of the aims, with no consideration of the burdens introduced. This would not deliver the certainty that business needs. The amendment could bring blatantly protectionist measures out of scope of the market access principles because it was unclear what “disguised restriction on trade” meant. We cannot accept protectionism within the UK.
In the previous debate, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, also raised the differences with the EU system. It should be quite clear that the EU system is designed for different circumstances—that is, bringing together 27 countries. Now that we are an independent trading nation, the market access principles are naturally more tailored for the UK than they were in the EU system, so it is right that the approach to exclusions in this Bill should be more narrowly focused.
However, I must stress the following point to the House: the market access principles do not prevent the devolved Administrations introducing innovative policies designed to meet their own goals and objectives, including those relating to the environment and public health. We are adamant that requirements which prohibit the sale of a particular good should generally be in scope of the mutual recognition principle; otherwise, we would see a decrease in consumer choice, increased prices and additional costs for business. This is an outcome that I do not believe your Lordships desire, nor is it a good one for the citizens of the United Kingdom.
Of course, if there are initiatives that are of serious concern to the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, we should work together as a United Kingdom to implement them. Furthermore, manner of sale policies, which have typically been the most innovative types of policy, will not be impacted by the market access principles as long as they do not discriminate and are not designed specifically to circumvent mutual recognition. This covers innovative policies such as plastic bag charges and minimum unit alcohol pricing, which many noble Lords have cited. In this respect, our system has much greater flexibility in these areas than the current EU system would allow.
For all these reasons, I strongly encourage noble Lords to reject Amendment 8M.
Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)
At end insert “and do propose Amendment 8M as an amendment to the words restored to the Bill by non-insistence on Amendments 8L, 13 and 56—
8M: Schedule 1, page 48, line 47, at end insert—
“5A (1) The United Kingdom market access principles do not apply to, and sections 2(3) and 5(3) do not affect the operation of, any requirements which—
(a) make a contribution to the achievement of—
(i) environmental standards and protection, or
(ii) protection of public health,
(b) are a proportionate means of achieving that aim, and
(c) are not a disguised restriction on trade.
(2) For the purposes of subparagraph (1)(b), a requirement is considered disproportionate if the aim being pursued in the destination part of the United Kingdom is already achieved to the same or a higher extent by requirements in the originating part of the United Kingdom.””
My Lords, in moving Motion B1 in my name, I thank the Minister for his full and comprehensive introduction and make it clear that we agree with his Amendment 15C, which we think is very helpful to the overall operation of the internal market Bill. In particular, it picks up points that we have been making in relation to market access. I have just one point of correction to what he said: the changes set out in my Amendment 8M remove the amendment completely from the main part of the Bill. He said Clause 1, but I think he meant Schedule 1; in other words, even more disguised and hidden than perhaps was the impression he gave when speaking.
In opening this debate, I do not want to spend a lot of time on this issue, which is quite narrow. Indeed, the arguments are very similar to those we have already heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The Minister’s defence of the current drafting in the Bill depended largely on the often-used threat by Ministers that those who are preparing amendments do not understand the unintended consequences that might flow from their drafting. I suggest to the Minister with some humility that we are not the experts on drafting. If there is an issue here that we should progress a little, we would certainly be happy to work with him and the team of draftspeople in his department to try to make sure that any egregious issues are removed. He drew particular attention to a concern about the phrase used in proposed paragraph 5A(1)(c), which those who wish to bring forward changes to market access would not be permitted to do so if they were disguised restrictions on trade. As I understand it, that comes from the existing WTO regulations and is therefore relatively well understood among those involved in the operation; these are trivial points, however, compared to the main points of principle that he raised.
I want to make three main points. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has already explained in his amendment that the common frameworks issues he talked about require a market access regime as well; the two are interrelated—almost two sides of the same coin. The devolution settlement has to be observed in both the spirit and the letter of the law. We think that the Bill can both honour and enhance the devolution settlement, provided, first, that we emphasise the common frameworks and the coherence that they can bring to the whole process of a devolved settlement and, secondly, that we do not make the market access principles, which operate automatically, too narrow and too prescriptive. That would fatally undermine the opportunities for devolved Administrations to diverge—if they wish and as agreed by all concerned—in a managed and coherent way.
We have a devolved system of government. That must necessarily imply divergence, so it has to be part of the system. In some way, the argument revolves around how it is possible to frame that managed divergence in legal terms. My Amendment 8M uses derogation powers that are already in the Bill to highlight areas of public good that could benefit consumers, workers and traders. The Minister said there was already coverage on these areas within the Bill, so, in a sense, he is making my point that areas such as public health and the ability of people to work in the environmental areas will be public goods if they can be brought forward. Any sensible Government would ensure that the system made it possible for those who wish to make changes that would raise standards —managed and with agreement—to do so.
The amendment therefore enhances efforts to improve environmental standards and public health; I cannot believe that the Government would want to be against that. It amends a schedule, and does not change any of the main clauses in the Bill. We are talking about trying to find a system for allowing divergence to happen in a proportionate way, which will not in any sense damage the ability of traders to trade but will benefit consumers and workers. It is a very small change. As the Minister rightly said, it has been slimmed down in the process of arriving at this point in the Bill’s discussions, and it is very much tied to the amendment that we have just accepted by a majority of over 100 in relation to the common frameworks. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak physically in the Chamber for the first time since March, so I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I feel a little rusty. Although we refer to people taking part remotely and those in the Chamber being treated equally for many procedures in your Lordships’ House, that is unfortunately not the case with ping-pong. That is why I felt that I needed to be here.
In reflecting on that, I want to comment very briefly on the earlier discussion about procedures in your Lordships’ House, because I respectfully disagree with the many people who said that they wanted to go back to how things were before as soon as possible. I think that the remote participation that enables people to participate who, for all kinds of reasons—whether it be disability, caring responsibilities or all kinds of other reasons—may not be able to be in the Chamber is something that we should keep. Of course, remote voting allows a wider democracy, as much as we can, which would surely be a good thing.
I am in favour of Motion B1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. I will focus in particular on the environment side of it and cite Alok Sharma, the Government’s chair of the COP 26 talks, who spoke yesterday at the climate ambition summit. He pointed out that 45 leaders had announced new climate target plans for 2030, 24 had committed to net zero and 20 had talked about strengthening adaptation. But we are still not on track for 1.5 degrees. As we start to gear up for COP 26, we are starting to see the revival of “One-point-five to stay alive”. We have a long way to go.
If we look at the situation of the nations of the UK, there is no doubt, sadly, that leadership has often not come from Westminster. On everything from home energy efficiency to plastic bag taxes and bottle deposit schemes—all kinds of environmental issues—leadership has come from the nations of the UK other than England. So, if we do not allow that to happen, we are cutting off the opportunity of progressing faster, which I suggest is not in line with the Government’s intentions.
I was speaking at the weekend at an event focusing on the beauty and diversity of the Amazon. There is an innate strength in diversity, in difference, and in different places trying different things and approaches. If you shut that off, as we will by not having this amendment or something very like it, we will actually hamper the efforts on the environment which the Government, I am pleased to say, tell us they are so keen to succeed with.
Finally, I will pick up on the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, on our first group of amendments about the “Take back control” issue. When participating remotely, or in the Chamber, I often find myself shaking my head as speakers say, “We are all supporters of the union here”. I believe in subsidiarity and in local decision-making, but I will offer some free advice to those who want to keep the existing arrangements. Squeezing people tighter and taking away independence or rights that have been given is not a way for that to continue. In your Lordships’ House, we have been awaiting for quite some time the very important domestic abuse Bill, which will bring the idea of coercive control into our law. If we attempt to coerce people and take away their independence and the rights that they already have, I would suggest that it will make them seek more independence.
I regret the fact that Motion B1 has been diminished from earlier, similar versions of the amendment. I regret the loss of animal welfare and cultural expression, but it is crucial that we keep the environmental standards and protection. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, how in the middle of a pandemic could we not keep the opportunity for every Government in the United Kingdom to protect the public health of their people as best they can?
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, back to her seat—just in time for tier 3 to arrive. We have again had a short debate. As we have seen the evolution of this argument—in the amendment’s approach to common frameworks it is, in a sense, the yin to the yang of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—we are now looking at a different way of trying to ensure that diversity can survive under the automation of the market access measures.
In the past, the Minister has brought to bear the Government’s disapproval of the breadth of the exclusions that previous versions of this amendment made. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, pointed out, many of those have now dropped off. So, in a sense, the Government have already pushed this to a narrower set of exclusions. The Minister highlighted his uncertainty around the word “proportionate”. Of course, none of us would want to do something disproportionate, but I cannot help thinking that the Government, in all their wisdom and with all their clever legal people, could come up with a frame of words that will prevent hideous problems developing in the courts—so I cannot help thinking that that is something of a red herring.
As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, this is getting more modest than was previously attempted, but it still has the overriding aim of dealing with the problem which keeps coming up throughout this debate. The Minister has magnanimously said that the devolved authorities are perfectly at liberty to develop new and innovative ways of doing things—so far, so good—and then, of course, the market access principles mean that those innovations will get undercut if someone else in the British Isles is doing it differently. I do not understand how the Minister can keep linking those two sentences without seeing that the one excludes the other. If it does not do it in governmental terms, it will do it in the courts. This will be a creature of the courts, because there will be businesses that will be going at a legal opportunity to get their products into devolved authorities that have sought to raise standards, as they see it.
The issue of minimum-unit alcohol pricing often comes up, and it is quite clear that this legislation will not affect that at all. We are all in agreement there. But if we were seeking to bring that in once this legislation was in place, what chance would it have of surviving the courts? That is why we will support this amendment.
I thank everybody who has contributed to what has been a very good, albeit brief, debate. I have listened very carefully to the points that have been raised, and I will respond directly to the points of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Fox. Innovative policy-making relating to public health and the environment will be fully possible under the Bill, within the clearly defined market access principles. Schedule 1 sets out a clear exclusion process for:
“Threats to human, animal or plant health”.
There are also several other exclusions relating to the environment and public health: chemicals and pesticides, for example. All of these are drafted tightly to strike the right balance between these objectives and the integrity of the market.
It is also essential to remember that neither of the market access principles affects the devolved Administrations’ abilities to uphold and enforce rules governing how consumers use goods. Neither would they prevent reasonable “manner of sale” restrictions, as long as they are not discriminatory. If an Administration wanted to introduce minimum alcohol pricing or the plastic bag charges, they are fully able to do so and can use them to fulfil environmental or public health aims in future; the principles would not be an obstacle to that, as long as those rules do not discriminate. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that she is wrong: if a future devolved Administration wanted to introduce the plastic bag charges, they would be able to do so under these market access principles, as long as they were non-discriminatory.
We believe that the targeted list of exclusions achieves the right balance, providing certainty about the areas where market access principles would apply while still retaining the ability for the DAs and the UK Government to implement innovative new policies. I hope that all of us in this place agree that the innovation in the devolved Administrations is to be welcomed—but discrimination is not. This Bill provides a means to assure that this is reflected in the operation of our UK internal market.
With that explanation, I hope that noble Lords will be able to support the Government’s approach—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, looks sceptical—to reinstate these original clauses on exclusions in the Bill.
My Lords, this has been a very short debate, but, as the Minister has said, it has been quite interesting, and revelatory in some senses. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for speaking in support. I think that I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his suggestion that “yin and yang” are the words I was looking for in terms of my relationship with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. We are certainly not yin and yang if you consider size or intellectual ability, but, even so, it is a nice thought.
I recognise that the Minister was not going all out to take down the arguments I was making, and I am grateful to him for that; he can sometimes be quite destructive when he does, and it is nice to have the sunny side of him on show today—he does have a sunny side.
I cannot understand why there is such a concern about divergence. For those of us who were born and brought up in Scotland, it is well known that building regulations there are substantially different for not unreasonable reasons: the weather up there is so different from that which one experiences further south. Those regulations were different in Scotland for many years before devolution took place, and have continued to be.
Of course, there are many other areas of difference, right across a range of activity in Scotland: a different legal system, a different religious environment as well as other factors. This has led to different ways in which people operate, trade is conducted, and people shop and carry out their business. The idea that divergence is not already present in the system and not respected as such seems very strange.
I know that the Minister stands by Schedule 1 because he referred to it at length, but those who have read it carefully—I suspect that not many people have read it right the way through because it is dry—will know that, basically, the only real reason for divergence is set out there very clearly. It says that there has to have been a threat to life caused by a “pest or disease”—that is a very wide-ranging thought and a way we can approach it. Nevertheless, that is really the only sure and certain basis under which divergence would be permitted, other than that which already exists.
In that sense, we are on the right track: there could be a better way of formulating that. The schedule contains many other ways of implementing curtailment and restriction that we could use if the wording currently in our amendment is not satisfactory. However, I do not think that the Minister has said anything that would negate our feeling that this amendment, in its essence, is the counterpart to the amendment that we already agreed in relation to common frameworks—and that it would play a necessary part in making sure that devolution continues. I recommend it, and I would like to test the opinion of the House.
That this House do not insist on its insistence on its Amendments 14, 52, 53 and 54 to which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement for their Reason 14C.
14C: Because the Lords Amendments (together with Lords Amendment 55 which has been agreed by both Houses) were only made in consequence of the omission of Part 5 by Lords Amendments 42 to 47 and so have become unnecessary following the Lords non-insistence on Lords Amendments 42, 43 and 46.
My Lords, I am introducing a new government amendment, containing new Clause 43A, as well as moving Motions C, D and E, which will rectify the oddities left by the removal of Clauses 44, 45 and 47. Now that we have an agreement in principle with the European Union through the joint committee, as we discussed in the last round of these discussions in your Lordships’ House, the safety net clauses are no longer required.
The EU’s declaration on Article 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol clarifies that subsidies are within scope of the state aid rules in the protocol only where there is a “genuine and direct link” to Northern Ireland and a “real and foreseeable” impact on trade between Northern Ireland and the European Union. The House has been concerned, as has the other place, about the risk of reach-back; the EU’s clarification addresses this. The concern was that a company in Great Britain with only a peripheral link to commercial operations in Northern Ireland could be caught inadvertently by the tests within the protocol’s text, which was neither acceptable nor what the protocol had envisaged.
However, public authorities giving subsidies and the beneficiaries still need guidance regarding Article 10 of the protocol. Therefore, new Clause 43A stipulates:
“The Secretary of State must publish guidance on the practical application of Article 10”.
The clause requires the Secretary of State’s guidance to reflect any relevant decision or recommendation of the joint committee or any declaration made by either party of which the other party takes note. The Secretary of State may update the guidance, for example, to reflect developments in either the joint committee or relevant EU law. Public authorities will be required to have regard to this guidance, helping to ensure a consistent and uniform application of Article 10. This approach is fully in accordance with the United Kingdom Government’s commitments under the Northern Ireland protocol and international and domestic law. The new clause is an important part of putting the protocol into effect and for the agreement in principle with the European Union to function.
I know that noble Lords have welcomed progress on this part of the Bill, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Clause 43A. Consistent with the Minister’s undertaking last week, this new clause is not tainted with the admitted unlawfulness that marked Clauses 44, 45 and 47. By way of a footnote, in view of the Minister’s observation, I will say that those clauses should never have been there in the first place. As the Minister has explained, this clause is concerned with the issuing of guidance by the Secretary of State in relation to Article 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol, and any subsequent implementation of that guidance. Either process must pay full attention to the decisions and recommendations of the joint committee, itself established under Article 164 of the withdrawal agreement. Non-compliance, if it were to arise, would, if necessary, be justiciable.
There is nothing further that I can say in relation to this clause. It seems to be a very sensible solution to a difficult problem.
My Lords, this is the last knockings on Part 5 of the Bill. It has been a sad and sorry saga from beginning to end. The Government understandably drew huge opprobrium, both domestically and internationally, for being prepared to break the law. They have now withdrawn in the best way they can, but the truth is that they have done so with their tail between their legs. I am extremely pleased that we have reached this point, but sorry that the Government ever put Part 5 in the Bill in the first place and that it needed your Lordships’ House to help kick it out.
The noble Lord, Lord True, has been true to his word. He has produced Clause 43A, which does not contain any element of illegality, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said. I also agree with the noble and learned Lord that it is a sensible provision and we welcome it. It brings to an end a saga for which this country has plainly paid a price. Everybody commenting on the position of the European Union at the moment is saying that the reason it is currently seeking the arbitral and consultation provisions, and the threshold for the ratchet up, is that it does not trust us—and one of the reasons for that is the internal market Bill and its illegality.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord opposite always has a delightful habit of ending his eloquent speeches with a couple of sentences that I find it hard to agree with, and I do not agree with his interpretation there. But I thank those who have contributed to this short debate. I am grateful for the welcome for the Government’s proposal—I do not talk about tails between legs—and that the other parts of Part 5, to which your Lordships objected before, have been accepted. As perceived from this side of the House, that was the correct action.
I need not repeat the essence of this. Clause 43A is required in the Bill because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said, it is an important part of implementing the protocol. The clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to provide guidance. I welcome the fact that the EU has clarified that subsidies are within the scope of Article 10 only under the conditions that I described—a genuine and direct link to Northern Ireland and a real, foreseeable impact on trade between Northern Ireland and the EU. This addresses the risk of reach-back and must be reflected in the guidance that the Government will provide.
I am also, of course, grateful for the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. In concluding, I will emphasise, as he did, that this approach is fully in accordance with the United Kingdom’s commitments under the Northern Ireland protocol and international and domestic law.
Motion C agreed.
That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 45C.
45C: After Clause 43, insert the following new Clause—
“43A Guidance on Article 10 of the Northern Ireland Protocol
(1) The Secretary of State must publish guidance on the practical application of Article 10 of the Northern Ireland Protocol (State aid).
(2) For that purpose Article 10 is to be read in the light of—
(a) any relevant decision or recommendation of the Joint Committee, and
(b) any relevant declaration that is made in the Joint Committee by either party, of which the other party takes note.
(3) The guidance must be published before the end of the period of one month beginning with the day on which this section comes into force.
(4) A person with public functions relating to the implementation of Article 10 (including functions involving the provision of financial assistance or other subsidies) must have regard to the guidance when exercising such functions.
(5) The Secretary of State may—
(a) revise or replace the guidance;
(b) if satisfied it is no longer necessary, withdraw the guidance.
(6) In this section “Joint Committee” means the committee established by Article 164(1) of the EU withdrawal agreement.”
Motion D agreed.
Motion E agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendments 48B and 48C to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 48D.
48D: Because the Lords Amendments would alter financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
My Lords, the other place has disagreed with Amendments 48B and 48C regarding the power to provide financial assistance which the Bill confers on the UK Government. Once again it has invoked financial privilege. I remind noble Lords that this is not a decision for the Government to make but is independently determined in the other place. It would, of course, be contrary to normal practice for the House to insist on any amendment disagreed for a financial privilege reason.
Amendments 48B and 48C, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, required the Government to have the consent of the devolved Administrations before exercising the financial assistance power in devolved areas. As I emphasised last week, this power is additional to the devolved Administrations’ existing powers, which I was glad to see noble Lords accept in the debate last Wednesday. It does not override the devolution settlements. I note that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has tabled further amendments on this matter and I thank him for discussing these with me in advance. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for their discussions with me on these matters.
Amendments 48E and 48F would require the Government to consult on and publish the principles for investment, and to seek advice from representatives jointly appointed by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations before providing financial assistance in devolved areas. I reassure the noble and learned Lord that, when using this power, we will, of course, work with the devolved Administrations and other key stakeholders throughout the country. As I have mentioned previously, the UK shared prosperity fund provides a more detailed example of how we intend to use the power to provide financial assistance. In doing so, I hope that noble Lords recognise that the process is consistent with the intent of the amendments proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas.
The financial assistance power means that the UK Government can make good on our commitment to level up and create opportunities across the UK in places most in need, such as ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and rural and coastal communities, and for people who face labour-market barriers. We have discussed the UK shared prosperity fund extensively and I reiterate that, while the specific arrangements for the governance of the fund are still being developed, there will be governance structures and the devolved Administrations will have a place within those structures. I hope that noble Lords will accept that this is a clear commitment to work collaboratively and demonstrates that this is not at all “Westminster knows best” or “a Westminster power grab”. As noble Lords have mentioned, we have also worked collaboratively with the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive for over six years on city and growth deals, and we intend to continue in that spirit of partnership and joint working.
The power in the Bill creates a unified power that operates consistently UK-wide. In exercising that power, we will work with stakeholders, including the devolved Administrations. This will help to make sure that UK Government investments and devolved UK Administration spending will deliver effective outcomes for the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK Government are best placed to identify and fund schemes that take into account all parts of the country and across administrative borders to connect all parts of the UK. Indeed, we have shown how crucial the scale and responsiveness of the UK Government support can be throughout this difficult year.
The response to Covid-19 has illustrated how the Government can work strategically and at scale to save jobs and support communities throughout the UK, working alongside the devolved Administrations to keep every citizen safe and supported, no matter where they live. I hope that this will encourage the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Motion F (as an amendment to Motion F)
At end insert “and do propose Amendments 48E and 48F in lieu—
48E: Clause 48, page 40, line 41, at end insert—
“(1A) The powers in subsection (1) may only be exercised—
(a) after consultation with the relevant authority on the principles under which financial assistance may be provided by a Minister of the Crown;
(b) after publication of such principles; and
(c) after considering the advice of persons jointly appointed by the Minister of the Crown and the relevant authority for each of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as to the way in which, applying the principles, the allocation of financial assistance respectively to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which could have been given by a relevant authority should be provided.”
48F: Page 41, line 10, at end insert—
““relevant authority” means the Welsh Ministers in respect of Wales, the Scottish Ministers in respect of Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Executive in respect of Northern Ireland.””
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the opportunity to have had discussions with her on two occasions. I am grateful indeed. There are three short reasons why I hope that the House will accept Motion F1 and Amendments 48E and 48F, which I seek to move and the compromise within that is intended. Those reasons can be explained briefly as follows.
The first is that the assertion of financial privilege is one to which there are two answers: it is not a financial issue, it is a constitutional and devolution issue. The scope of financial privilege is a question that will need to be discussed further in due course as the precedents on financial privilege need to be considered in the light of devolution. However, this is not the occasion. The issues in relation to devolution are addressed in this amendment in a way that simply seeks to clarify the need for consultation, principles and advice, all of which are so essential to the function of a union, but they do not impinge on the power of the other place.
My second reason for the amendment is that the way in which it seeks to proceed is to set out a principal reason for spending in the devolved areas. The UK Government and the devolved Governments should work together to strengthen confidence both in the Governments and in the union. The clause requires, as before, consultation in establishing the publication of principles and—this is new—the consideration of advice from the devolved Governments in the field where powers have been devolved. This goes nowhere beyond the devolved powers and it seeks simply to uphold the devolution settlement. The keys are consultation, principle and advice.
It is of course for the UK Government to decide whether they will follow that advice, but perhaps I may make three short points. If the advice were to be followed, it would stop the UK going back, as the Minister has observed, to “Westminster knows best.” If the UK Government were to follow the advice, it would say that they can work with the Governments that have been elected by the people of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to spend wisely in the devolved fields by accepting the advice of those who know best in the devolved institutions. Secondly, it would also give the spending of those funds a considerable degree of democratic legitimacy by ensuring that the democratic mandate to spend in the devolved fields was heeded. Thirdly, if the advice was followed, spending would be much more efficient, as there should be co-ordination of spending. The real risk of inconsistent and, worse still, competitive spending, would be avoided.
My last main reason is, in short, is that the amendment seeks to lay part of the foundation for the exercise of statecraft, something that is so necessary to ensure the future of our union. The question may therefore be asked: why is it necessary to put this into a Bill? We simply cannot afford the failure of statecraft in relation to the union. Experience has shown that a clear mechanism is the best way of providing for co-operation between the four nations. There can be no more important area in which to do this than in relation to the working together, with a common and unified purpose, to increase the prosperity of each of the four nations, and here I refer in particular to the very deprived areas within those four nations. I beg to move.
I strongly support everything that has just been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and I hope that my noble friends in the Labour Party will support him in his amendment if he presses it to a vote. The points he has raised are absolutely fundamental to the devolution settlement. The big issue here is what happens in lieu of the big decisions that used to be made about the structural funds. The noble Baroness the Minister said in our last debate that it was the European Union that would decide, which of course was technically true because these were EU funds, but the advice upon which projects are prioritised within the devolved Administrations very clearly flowed from the devolved Administrations themselves. If we do not observe that principle in respect of the Shared Prosperity Fund and whatever may replace it over time—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has explained that we are putting in place within statute a regime that could now last for decades—what we will be doing is substantially rolling back the devolution settlement.
The noble and learned Lord used a slightly antiquated term, “statecraft”, but it is coming back into vogue, because we have so little of it. Indeed, as some noble Lords might recall, the Prime Minister told us some while ago that it would be a failure of statecraft if there was not a deal, which he very nearly railroaded the country into over the past weekend. It would be an equal failure of statecraft if the devolution settlement starts to break down because of irreconcilable differences between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government on fundamental issues relating to the allocation of structural and regional funding within the UK.
The position that we are in, which is why I think it is so important that the noble and learned Lord presses his amendment, is this: can we simply take the rather vague assurances that the Minister has given us today as being sufficient? In respect of the operation of the whole devolution settlement, which is something that one would expect to roll over from Government to Government as a part of our constitution, I do not think that the assurances which have been given as set down in Hansard are sufficient. It is important to have them in statute. Thus, I think that the arrangements that the noble and learned Lord has set out in his Amendment F1 are absolutely appropriate to what we are facing in this area.
The other reason is that in my experience, people’s past behaviour is always the best guide to their future behaviour. On the basis of the Government’s past behaviour, I do not believe that we can accept those assurances as being sufficient. This is the Government that introduced the towns fund under which Ministers themselves could decide on a wholly arbitrary basis that was not related to any objective statements of need, how they would allocated hundreds of millions of pounds—I think in the end billions of pounds under the fund; I have just been told £4 billion—based on arbitrary and essentially political criteria. How can we accept a vague assurance about consultation with the devolved Administrations when we know that that is how Ministers of the Crown have behaved?
It seems to me to be absolutely essential, not simply desirable, that we put into statute the requirements of the noble and learned Lord’s Amendment F1. They seek that the Government should make these further investments only after consultation, which is the crucial element of his proposed new wording for Clause 48
“on the principles under which financial assistance may be provided by a Minister of the Crown.”
That would set out in law the requirement that there must be consultation on principles.
If I have a concern about the noble and learned Lord’s amendment, it is that it is too weak. This is the classic problem when one starts to compromise. You end up by giving up too much ground. As I read it, I think that the wording of his amendment is too weak because it requires consultation on principles. On my reading of the amendment, it does not require the consent of the devolved Administrations to disbursements that are made in respect of additional investments like the Shared Prosperity Fund.
I will put this to the noble and learned Lord: what would happen if, having consulted, the United Kingdom Government do what they now seem to do routinely—the Prime Minister has told us that he does not believe in devolution—and simply override the view of the devolved Administrations and decide on a political basis to make what are essentially politically motivated investments anyway?
I hope the noble and learned Lord can disabuse me, but my reading of the wording of his new amendment is that the United Kingdom Government would, having consulted, none the less be able to ride roughshod over the devolved Administrations and decide what they want to do for political reasons in London and Westminster. The noble Baroness said—we liked her words—that she was seeking to give backing to the principle that it is not the case that Westminster knows best; my reading of the state of the law, which is what will matter on these things, is that it would be perfectly okay for future Governments to say not only that Westminster knows best but that the Conservative Party knows best and will distribute funding in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in respect of Conservative Party priorities and not any priorities agreed with the devolved Administrations.
I strongly support the noble and learned Lord’s amendment. It goes to the heart of what will happen to devolution after Brexit. My concern is that, in the process of compromising as this Bill has gone through, the amendment is too weak to deliver the objectives which the noble and learned Lord so rightly set out.
My Lords, I have had three more requests to speak. I will take them in order: the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and then the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I call the noble Lord, Lord Liddle.
My Lords, the serious point here is whether responsibility for economic development measures, which are the purpose of the shared prosperity fund, will be devised, agreed and undertaken with the consent of the devolved Administrations and devolved bodies in England.
Last time I spoke on this, the Minister claimed that the distribution of EU funds was decided in Brussels. That is not the case, as she well knows. As I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, would confirm on the basis of his great experience of European matters, the EU established criteria against which funds should be spent and rules for determining the areas of greatest need, which were based on the relative GDP of an area in the European Union—which areas were Objective 1, which were Objective 2, and all the rest. It did not decide on individual projects. That was never determined in the Commission.
The way individual projects were decided under the structural funds—as I think Conservative and Labour Governments have practised since the 1990s—was on a bottom-up principle, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, probably started off agreeing with. If we were to have effective economic development, it had to have the buy-in of local areas, and of the nations when we had devolution. The best way to do this was through mechanisms that brought together locally elected people with businesspeople in bodies at local, regional and national levels to determine which projects should be prioritised.
As I understand it, the present proposal is that, instead of this devolved system, which has worked reasonably well over the past few decades, this Government want to take power to centralise decision-making. The precedent for this—as my noble friend Lord Adonis mentioned—is the towns fund, which is a completely centralised pork barrel dished out to Members of Parliament representing constituencies that the Conservative Party has recently won. That is what the towns fund is. I know from my own county, Cumbria, that Carlisle, Workington and Barrow will be recipients of towns fund money. Why? Yes, they have great needs, but it is because they have recently elected Conservative Members of Parliament.
Now we are told that we will have a levelling-up fund as well as a towns fund, and this shared prosperity fund. These are significant amounts of money, which Ministers will decide and civil servants will implement. What will the role of local bodies be? For instance, I noticed that when the Minister was talking about her plans to consult people, there was not a single mention of the role of local enterprise partnerships in England, yet they were the great innovation of the coalition in 2010. What has happened to them?
There are also the mayoral authorities and the devolution of economic powers to mayors; many of us on the Labour side were strong supporters of this, but George Osborne also drove it very strongly with the proposals for the northern powerhouse. I heard nothing from the Minister—perhaps she will come in on this and tell me I am wrong—about the northern powerhouse, what mayors should be doing or what the role of local enterprise partnerships should be. I find all this very puzzling.
This is extremely serious when it comes to the nations of the United Kingdom. The biggest beneficiary of the proposals the Government are insisting on pushing through will be the Scottish nationalists. They will say that this is the Westminster Government taking back their spending powers and instituting a totally centralised system, when we know from experience all around the world that centralised decision-making on economic development questions simply does not work. I ask the Minister to think again.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly in favour of Motion F1 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. I thank him for his strong and determined pursuit on this issue over the many stages of this Bill. I join the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in hoping very much that we will see our Opposition Front Benches support this and push it forward.
I will refer to many of the same issues that I raised on Motion B; we are talking about local control and local prioritising, as the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Liddle, have said. Without this amendment, this Bill would take financial control away from the devolved Administrations—money is power, as we know. I think it was in Committee that I raised the phrase “pork barrelling”, which has reappeared again and again. This is heading towards an American-style politics, and we have many reasons why we would not wish to head in that direction.
This means in practice that if you have, as we do, an Administration in Westminster who are keen on building new roads—even though they just create more air pollution and new traffic—and airport expansion, and not on spending on nature, that priority will be forced on to local devolved Administrations.
I slightly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, who held up as a model local enterprise partnerships and the previous model under the coalition Government; business and elected people is one partnership, but I would like to see something which is much broader and takes in all elements of the local community.
I have been seeing a great rise in enthusiasm across many parts of government for deliberative democracy, for the climate assembly and the people’s assembly approach—the chance to bring together representative groups of people to make decisions. Given that increase in enthusiasm, I would like to see it written into the Bill. Perhaps we will pursue it in the future.
I come back to my point from the debate on the previous amendment about the issue of coercive control raised by the Domestic Abuse Bill. That explicitly looks at financial control as a way in which people in households exercise unequal control. I hope that your Lordships’ House would agree that in an ideal household, everyone has a real and equal say in the spending of financial resources and a real chance to have their say. I would be interested in the noble and learned Lord’s comments on this; the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said that this was in consultation. I agree that we should have the word “consent” in this amendment. We are talking about democracy, about people having their say and about how we would like to see our nations run.
My Lords, when the Minister introduced the Motion, she explained clearly that the other place had claimed financial privilege and that it was customary for this House to respect that decision made by the Speaker. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said that this was not a financial issue. I respectfully say to the noble and learned Lord that it is not for this House to determine whether or not it is a financial issue. As I understand it, it has been accepted by this House for a very long time that the final arbiter of what is or is not a financial issue for which privilege can be claimed is the other place, through its Speaker. If we continue to disregard the Commons claim of financial privilege in relation to amendments we send to the other place for consideration, we not only show a lack of respect, particularly to the Speaker, but might be starting on a route to a constitutional clash with the other place, which would be most unfortunate.
When I sat where the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, sits, many years ago, we often faced financial privilege being invoked against amendments we were pleased with ourselves for having sent back to the other place for consideration, but we always respected that decision when it came back. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, will continue that tradition in this place. Does the Minister know of any precedence for this place insisting on its amendments not once but twice in the face of a financial privilege claim by the other place, and does she agree with me that this is not a path down which this House should go?
Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak?
There is almost no one left in the Chamber who has not spoken. This has been an interesting debate and, no doubt, the Minister is carrying away lots of advice from some of the Benches. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Liddle, for their passion. If that passion is matched by votes in the event that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, decides to ignore the advice of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and press this to a vote, I will have more excitement because otherwise, it is merely a rhetorical gesture.
The noble and learned Lord set out his view on devolution. It is quite clear, as was set out a number of occasions, that in the structural fund process, which this will herald the replacement for, the devolved authorities were in the driving seat of deciding where and on what the money was spent. It is not clear from anything the Minister said today, or in answer to questions last time, that the Government will not seek to impose things on the devolved authorities. The Minister said there would be governance structures; it would be interesting to hear how those governance structures will be introduced and what the Government envisage. In other words, do central Government have the veto in deciding what goes where? In the end, that is the difference between this being genuinely consultative and, as we have heard described around the House, a Westminster-knows-best process. Consultation is fine but only if it is adhered to.
My final point on the quantum of money and its distribution comes back to a question I asked earlier. I think the Minister said that the amount of money envisaged to go into the shared prosperity fund is equivalent to that which came through the structural fund. The Minister also indicated a much broader remit for spreading that money around than was the practical reality of the structural fund. How will the Government manage the process of certain areas that have been particularly well funded through the structural fund, such as Cornwall and Wales, getting less money if there is no increase in funds and they are spread more widely? Furthermore, the European Union distributed that money using classifications of need, so how will the UK Government develop those? Do the Government envisage that they will be different, and can they undertake that they are transparent?
In conclusion, if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, decides to call a vote, we on these Benches would support it, but there are a lot of questions we would be grateful if the Minister could answer.
My Lords—[Inaudible]—on earlier discussions around this issue and the issue that will come up in the next group of amendments on state aid and spending as a result of moneys which may be available to support that. We should pause and take note of the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has engaged with this issue again despite the view taken in the other place that it is a financial privilege. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is right in saying we are in a difficult area. I am not sure how the comments from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, will take him forward. He certainly has a point, but I do not think this is the right amendment or place to explore it. It needs a wider perspective. Many of these issues date from time immemorial; it is important to respect them and understand where they come from, but they should not block debate and discussion on key issues.
The issue the noble and learned Lord is raising, which has also been picked up the Minister, is how, in the future, possibly using statecraft—whatever that is—we will manage spending in the devolved areas, which are not reserved, when the funding mechanisms are different and have to be adapted to meet current arrangements. There are issues that will need to be addressed in the future, but we covered a lot of ground in earlier debates, and I thought the points made by the Minister on the shared prosperity fund were sufficient to ensure that we do not need to go back over this again. It is not our view, as Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, that we need to divide the House on this issue again.
If the issue is common between us, we need to understand where we can get to in respect of comments made from the Dispatch Box. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, made a number of good points and asked a number of questions, and I am sure the Minister will respond to them. I do not think the points added by my noble friends Lord Adonis and Lord Liddle vitiate that approach; they made a good case that we will need more in this area in the future, but this is not the right amendment to take us down that route.
I would like to make a point about current problems I have observed from my interest in Erasmus+. I asked the Library to do a bit of work for us and it has been very revealing. We have a good example of something that is definitely going to cause difficulty. I do not expect the Minister to have all the answers, but I pose the questions because they are a good example of the issues being raised here.
Looking at the way in which Erasmus will go forward, it is quite likely that the final result of the current discussions in Brussels will be that we will no longer be able to apply to it. Or will we? Would it be possible, for example, for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be individual members of Erasmus schemes, even though the UK is not part of that? I do not think we know the answer but that would certainly be of interest.
This issue has received a lot of attention in Northern Ireland. It has not been dealt with in this Bill, but as I understand it from the Library, it looks as though students in Northern Ireland—whether from the Republic of Ireland or from the United Kingdom—will be eligible to apply for Erasmus+. Funding will come partially from the Republic of Ireland but also from the institutions themselves and the EU. That puts Northern Ireland in a different place in relation to the protocol. It is certainly going to make a difference to the education that will be provided in Scotland, Wales and England if that goes ahead and other areas do not.
It is well known that discussions are ongoing between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, about how, if necessary, an Erasmus+ replacement can be put forward. It seems from the latest information I have that it would be done through the powers in this Bill. The complaint that I am hearing—and not just from one source—is that the arrangements for the schemes being proposed by the UK through the Department for Education and Skills will not be sufficiently recalibrated to suit Scotland and Wales. That is not a very satisfactory situation.
I am not going to make any large claims on this—it is not an issue for today—but it is a good example of the problems that will be caused if we do not have sufficient regard to issues that are not reserved and can be deployed by the devolved Administrations. Their history has involved spending in these areas, but the UK Government now think they have a right through this Bill to make decisions which may adversely—or in other ways—affect future generations of students. It is a big problem, and the Minister should reflect on that when she responds.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said, we need to think harder about how and where we operate—we should not just be thinking about a consultative, consent-seeking mode. We should be thinking harder about what works best when done from the bottom end of the prospective policy, what works best jointly through common frameworks or market access principles, and what has to be done by the UK. I am not sure we have quite got to the bottom of that in these debates.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to a debate that was slightly longer than the one we had during the previous round of ping-pong. I will address the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and in doing so I hope to address those made by other noble Lords too.
On financial privilege, I very much welcome my noble friend Lady Noakes saying that this is not a decision by the Government but one taken by the Speaker in the House of Commons. I do not have an answer for her on whether there are any precedents for twice resisting financial privilege as a reason given by the Commons, but it must be highly unusual. This is not the place to raise further constitutional questions in bringing that principle into doubt in this Bill.
The noble and learned Lord talked about a principled basis for the spending powers being taken through this Bill. I completely agree with him on that. He spoke of consultation, the establishment of principles and advice from jointly appointed advisers. We do not propose a structure involving jointly appointed advisers, but we do plan to have the devolved Administrations represented in the governance structures for the fund. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Fox—I cannot give further details of how that will work at this stage; we will work on that with the devolved Administrations. There are further stages to come in the development of the shared prosperity fund, its governance and the principles around it, after this debate and in future. As I have said to noble Lords before, the fund will not be introduced until the following financial year, which gives us time to work through some of these details.
I hope I have made it clear to noble Lords that the Government have already been engaging in consultations on the shared prosperity fund. To date, we have conducted 25 engagement events across the UK, attended by over 500 stakeholders, including the devolved Administrations. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made a good point about LEPs and mayoral authorities—of course we will want to consult and collaborate with those organisations as well as the devolved Administrations as we take these proposals further. Those mentioned at the Dispatch Box were not an exclusive list of those whom we wish to engage, but the debate has focused very much on the question of devolution.
As for the establishment of principles, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Liddle, and others, there is not a huge amount of disagreement here. The EU set the terms and conditions for investment in the UK as well as other member states, with which the UK Government and the devolved Administrations alike had to comply. Devolved Administrations and other areas were then responsible for managing EU funds in those projects. The idea of setting out principles in a framework and then collaborating in local delivery is very much something we wish to take forward. We have set out some of those principles already in the heads of terms for the shared prosperity fund that we published at the spending review. We have said that a much more detailed investment framework will be published in the spring, following further discussions.
Regarding the focus of that investment, I would have thought the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, would welcome our saying at the spending review that investment should be aligned with the Government’s clean growth and net zero objectives. Those are the kinds of principles we have already set out and that we want to see in the investment from these funds.
On the establishment of principles and the conduct of consultations, the Government and noble Lords are rather in agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked about the quantum and the distribution of funding. Again, I apologise and will have to disappoint him slightly. I said at the spending review that the quantum will ramp up to £1.5 billion a year, I think, to match that commitment to, at minimum spend, the previous levels. I also referred in the last debate to our setting out certain commitments in our manifesto that will guide us in future. But there is more work to be done on the detail—from taking the heads of terms to the investment framework—to get the kind of answers that the noble Lord is asking for.
I have mentioned some of the details of the shared prosperity fund, and I also talked about our approach to city deals. I gently disagree with certain noble Lords’ use of “pork-barrel politics” terminology. I point to examples of our trying to take a collaborative approach—a principles-based approach from the centre, while also working with those on the ground regarding their needs. That is very much the approach we plan to take with the shared prosperity fund.
I am afraid that I will have to take away the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about a possible replacement for Erasmus and how that might operate. Again, this is an example of the fact that the detail of this matters. The Government take this very seriously. However, we disagree on some points. This power will be used for the shared prosperity fund and may be used in other areas. We want it to be flexible enough for the UK Government to respond quickly and at scale to investment challenges and opportunities. It is not practical to set out a single plan for investment in legislation now, which is why, for the shared prosperity fund, we will set out plans and collaborate with the devolved Administrations as we will have developed that. In other areas in future—the noble Lord mentioned Erasmus, for example—we will take a similar approach.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, will feel able to withdraw his amendment although it did not sound as though he was minded to.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to ask a short question for elucidation.
I want to ask the Minister a very specific question. She talked about consultation, but will she undertake on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government to commit that they will not make investments under the shared prosperity fund, or any of its successors, in the territories of the devolved Administrations without their consent? This is about not just consultation but consent. Further, does she realise that, if she does not do so, none of the other assurances that she has given is worth the paper they are written on?
I believe that this issue was the subject of the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, in the previous round of ping-pong. Those amendments were sent to the Commons and the Commons rejected them, so we are discussing a new set of amendments in this round of ping-pong. This question was dealt with in the previous round and is, as the Speaker of the House of Commons determined for previous amendments, subject to financial privilege.
I thank all noble Lords who participated in this debate—particularly the noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Fox and Lord Liddle, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle—which has lasted slightly longer than I anticipated.
The debate on both this occasion and previous ones has centred on the question of financial privilege. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for their observations on the uncharted territory into which we might be moving. It is important for the future to work out the way in which ancient principles may no longer be applicable to constitutional issues if we are to keep our union together.
In looking at this whole series of debates together, there has been another consideration. At least there is now a much greater understanding of the importance of respecting the devolved settlements and devolution. I was heartened when the Minister referred to an abandonment of “Westminster knows best”. That is progress indeed. I have also taken the Minister’s assurances into account. As one looks at the debates in the other place on the previous debates in this House, it is clear that those from Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and other places within those three nations, pay particular attention to what has been said. I am glad the Minister has given assurances in relation to principles of consultation and heeding advice.
It is a question of weighing up whether putting a structure into the Bill in the circumstances I have outlined would be a sufficient safeguard. Or is there a better safeguard: that is, the deterrence of the catastrophic result for our union if the Government did not adhere to the principles that have been explained? It would be catastrophic not only for the union but for trust in government if there was ever a hint of unprincipled distribution or application of these funds—[Inaudible.]—and of the pork barrel.
Therefore, with considerable hesitation, but bearing in mind that deterrence is a strong way of ensuring people keep to their principles—possibly stronger than structures in some places—with great reluctance I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Is it your Lordships’ pleasure that Motion F1 be withdrawn?
You wish to test the opinion of the House? The Question will be decided by a remote Division. I instruct the clerk to start the remote Division.
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. In accordance with paragraph 93 of the Procedure Committee guidance, leave to withdraw cannot be objected to. Therefore, motion F1 is withdrawn.
Motion F1 withdrawn.
Motion F agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 50C to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 50D.
50D: Because, while the Commons agree to Lords Amendment 50B, it is not appropriate to link the operation of the reservation proposed by Clause 50 to Common Frameworks.
My Lords, I turn once again to the thorny issue of subsidy control. I will begin by addressing Amendment 50E from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, before moving on to Amendment 50F from the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles.
I start by saying how pleased I am that we have reached agreement in both Houses on the necessity of Clause 50, which is, of course, the reservation of subsidy control. I welcome the agreement that we should continue the UK-wide approach, which this reservation now confirms in law. However, despite both Houses agreeing to the principle of the reservation of subsidy control, concerns remain about the process for reaching an agreement with the devolved Administrations on designing our future approach.
We recognise the importance of working constructively and co-operatively to design a unified approach that meets the needs of the UK economy. Both Houses supported the Government’s amendment to create a specific duty to consult the devolved Administrations on any response to the forthcoming public consultation. This will bolster the ongoing engagement that already exists between the Government and the devolved Administrations, and it ensures that, at the critical decision point for our future regime, the devolved Administrations will have advance sight of, and the opportunity to comment on, the Government’s conclusions.
The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, would provide a different process for working, through the common frameworks programme. This amendment, like the Government’s amendment that both Houses have now approved, concerns the period between now and a decision on the design of our future subsidy control approach.
The noble Baroness’s amendment reflects the recent proposals put forward by the Scottish and Welsh Governments. While we are grateful for their constructive engagement on this issue, the Government do not believe that this approach is suitable. I emphasise once again that state aid has never been included in the common frameworks programme. The common frameworks programme was designed to operate in policy areas where regulatory powers previously held at EU level intersect with devolved competence.
As I have said many times to your Lordships’ House, state aid has always been reserved. The devolved Administrations have never previously been able to set their own subsidy control rules. This was covered of course by the EU state aid framework. Therefore, the approach proposed in this amendment would, in our view, not be appropriate. Indeed, by accepting the reservation clause both Houses have confirmed the position that subsidy control should not be devolved. Therefore, it is not eligible for inclusion in the common frameworks programme.
The practical effect of the amendment would be to delay the agreement and implementation of any new UK-wide approach. Such a delay, with the unacceptable uncertainty it would create for business on our future approach, would come at a time when the Government are focused on supporting the UK’s economic recovery.
In the previous debate, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, queried whether this reservation would cut across part III of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act. I reassure noble Lords that the purpose of this reservation is not to affect devolved competence on other issues, but to allow for the provision of a single national subsidy control regime.
As I have said previously, there has sometimes been a misplaced conflation between the devolved spending powers and the overall system that regulates the potentially harmful and distortive effects of this spending. It is important to note that these are two distinct and separate responsibilities. All UK public authorities are and will remain responsible for their own spending decisions on subsidies, for how much, to whom and for what, within any subsidy control regime. I hope that noble Lords agree that the Government’s Amendment 51B to consult the devolved Administrations is the best way to ensure that we reach a collective and timely agreement on the future of the UK’s approach to subsidy control.
I turn now to Amendment 50F from the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, which seems to try to determine particular aspects of the UK’s future approach. By pre-empting the outcomes of the forthcoming consultation, the amendment would limit Parliament’s ability to legislate on subsidy control in future. The effect of the amendment would be that the Secretary of State could not make changes to the tests for a harmful subsidy, for remedies, for the scope of exceptions and for the conditions or time limits associated with such subsidies.
It is important to note that most of the elements referenced in this amendment are aspects of the state aid rules. As the noble Baroness will know from her participation in the recent SI debate on this matter, the current state aid rules will not apply to the UK from 1 January. The State Aid (Revocations and Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations, which were passed in both Houses, provide absolute legal certainty on this point, so it is unclear what the noble Baroness is trying to achieve in trying to prevent the Secretary of State making changes. Most of the elements referenced will not exist in UK law from 1 January, apart from in a more limited way under aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol. “Approvals”, for example, is a concept that does not exist under WTO rules, which the UK will continue to follow from 1 January.
As such, and as I hope noble Lords will understand, I cannot support the amendment. It would be inappropriate to determine particular aspects of the UK’s future approach or to seek to limit the Secretary of State’s ability to design those aspects at this stage. Through the forthcoming consultation, the Government will develop the details of any future domestic subsidy control regime, including the appropriate definitions and mechanisms for oversight. Should the Government then decide to legislate, these proposals will of course be brought before this House and the other place. I reiterate that the purpose of this reservation is to ensure that any future legislation is a matter for the UK Parliament to determine, and that if any legislative regime is introduced, following the agreement of both Houses, it would apply to the whole of the United Kingdom.
For all the reasons I have set out, I cannot accept Amendment 50F from the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. Moreover, I cannot accept Amendment 50E from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, as it is not appropriate to link the operation of the reservation proposed by Clause 50 to common frameworks, and as we have addressed the concerns in Amendment 51B. As such, with this explanation, I hope that the noble Baronesses will not press their amendments.
Motion G1 (as an amendment to Motion G)
At end insert “but do propose Amendment 50E in lieu—
50E: Clause 50, page 41, line 27, at beginning insert—
“(A1) Subsections (1), (2) and (3) shall take effect when the Welsh Ministers, the Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Executive have agreed with the Secretary of State a common framework applicable to the United Kingdom to regulate the provision of subsidies by a public authority to persons supplying goods or services in the course of a business or, if agreement cannot be reached, 18 months after the passing of this Act.””
My Lords, I shall speak to Motion G1 and move my Amendment 50E to Clause 50. At this stage I am minded to seek the opinion of the House, particularly because I wonder whether the House wants to have a conscience vote on some of these issues. I have found the Government’s response to our deliberations worrying. I remain concerned that the damage to the union that will come about as a result of their refusal to commit to a process of codesign of a future subsidy regime will come back to haunt us all.
We are of course a revising Chamber. We asked the Commons to think again, and after many hours of debate we gave clear messages through large majorities on key aspects of the Bill. We have seen some concessions and they were essential changes, but the huge problem of the current approach to the devolved Administrations remains unresolved. Given the Government’s current difficulties with the pandemic and unknowns over the end of the transition period, less than three weeks away, I fear that any stand-off with the devolved Administrations will compound and massively magnify them by fuelling the break-up of our union within only a few years. I say this because, as someone living in Wales and with family in Scotland, I see the Bill acting as a recruiting sergeant for separatist movements.
It is imperative to recognise the common frameworks, and we have signalled that clearly. As part of “taking back control”, the devolved institutions must have at least as much latitude—or call it “control”—as they felt they had within the EU to deal with the question of state aid. To establish durable intergovernmental working with the devolved Administrations, there must be clarity and certainty that the differing needs across the UK will be acknowledged and are seen as a joint responsibility that listens from the ground up and gives decision-making to the devolved Administrations.
As I understand it, neither Parliament nor the devolved Administrations had legislated on state aid in the past as these decisions were taken at EU level and regulations were directly applicable. Now that the EU mechanisms have been removed, it is still unclear where the decision-making now happens. State aid was not on the list of reserved powers and it has never been tested in the courts; indeed, such a test would do untold damage to relations between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.
I hope I misheard the Minister, or that it was a slip of the tongue. If I heard him say “dissolved competence” instead of “devolved competence”, I am really worried.
My noble friends and I have listened to the objections that three years is too long to wait to put a framework in place, so we have reduced it to 18 months and I am currently minded to seek the opinion of the House on this. Eighteen months is scarcely longer than it would take the Government to consult on a framework and bring forward the legislation to enact it. This could be far speedier should the Government accept the offer from the Scottish and Welsh Governments to proceed rapidly on developing a clear process for them to be part of the codesign of state aid, establishing the consensus through a seat at the table from the outset of such deliberations.
Of course, I share the House’s clearly stated support, restated again today, for the common frameworks process. That is essential, and I do not wish to jeopardise that in any way, as we must move forward together. Yet I believe that the Government will try to say that state aid is already reserved—in fact, I believe that is what I have already heard—and that to include it in the common framework process might somehow jeopardise that position of constitutional principle.
I would be very happy to accept a clear assurance that the Government will make every effort to ensure that the consent of the devolved Governments to a subsidy regime will be secured and will make a statement to Parliament when introducing the necessary legislation if they should override that process. To summarise, I believe that this House will want to hear that the Government will seek to agree with the devolved Governments any new subsidy framework and will explain to Parliament whether they have succeeded or not and, if not, why not. I believe that that is the minimum we can expect. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 50F and Motion G2, which I may wish to move. I also support Amendment 50E and Motion G1. Amendment 50F looks to the stage at which there may be changes to state aid provisions, whether that be changes in definitions, remedies, or the scope of exemptions, or introducing conditions or time limits on approval. I agree with the Minister that at the moment they are gone, but might not alternatives be introduced, or some aspects reintroduced? I think that would also constitute a change.
The EU state aid provisions were indeed the subject of a statutory instrument recently, and they end at the end of the transition period. But, as the Minister has informed us previously, the UK will follow WTO rules and consult and report on whether any wider scope is to be introduced. If the outcome is a recommendation for going wider—some kind of policy change—it begs the question of how it will be introduced.
My proposal is not made instead of consultations and approvals with the devolved Administrations, which we support; it is in recognition that the full range of public authorities and businesses are affected wherever they may be. Therefore, the detail of how any post-consultation policy change is implemented is of significant interest.
The withdrawal Act was used to make the changes that happen at the end of the transition period. But it would seem inappropriate for that to be used for any new policy. A new policy other than moving to the WTO default should surely have the scrutiny of primary legislation.
I know the Minister may say that how policy is to be implemented can be a point in consultation, but my submission is more constitutional than convenience. Parliament should be able to scrutinise and amend, and to spot those weaknesses and problems that this House in particular has the experience to iron out, especially at the first time around of making independent, post-Brexit state aid rules.
Therefore, my Amendment 50F seeks to put on the face of the Bill that changes to the test for harmful subsidy remedies, the scope for exemptions or the conditions or time limits on approvals may not be done by regulation. I do not seek to prevent policy change being made by the Secretary of State; I am just saying that, at least first time around, it should be made by primary legislation. It may be that the Minister can put my mind at rest, and I await his response with interest.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the eloquent and persuasive speech of my noble friend Lady Finlay in moving the amendment in Motion G1. First, I thank the Minister for his letter of Friday, which makes clear the Government’s wish for a constructive and collaborative relationship with the devolved Governments on state aid control and that the clause does not cut across the power of the devolved Governments to provide state aid or to determine how it is provided; it seeks only to restrict the distortive effects. With those thanks comes one short observation and two questions.
My observation is this: the proposal is very modest and not to the devolved institutions’ liking because, at the end of the period put forward in this amendment, it would nevertheless reserve a matter that the devolved Governments are right in saying is devolved. Of the many strengths of the proposal, it would provide a means for agreeing the regime and ensuring that it does not go forward without any risk of unilateral attack by a devolved institution. Surely the prize of agreement and strengthening the union is worth having.
I now pose my two questions to the Minister. First, the devolution statutes are now all framed based on reserved powers. That means that, if the UK Government have not reserved something, it is devolved. The power to control state aid is not reserved. If it were, these amendments would be unnecessary. This amendment therefore plainly changes the devolved settlements by removing a power that the devolved Governments have and transferring it to the UK Government. In those circumstances, I ask why the UK Government would not work together with them, consult them before the Bill was produced and try to find a common solution to that which I have always accepted as an absolute necessity: a unified state aid control regime. I fear it is an example of Westminster saying that it knows best, rather than working with the devolved Administrations.
Secondly, if the desire was to work together but, at the same time, provide a means of subsidy control, why, when changing the scheme of devolution, was a commitment not made in the Bill to work together with the devolved Administrations to develop the new regime? These questions seek to show that much could have been done to proceed in a way that strengthens the union, for that is the point of these amendments: to ensure that the UK Government work together with the devolved Administrations.
It is therefore necessary to ask the Minister a general question: how serious are the UK Government in their claims that the devolved legislatures and Governments will be fully involved in developing the subsidy regime? There are many important questions, particularly the role of the CMA as an independent regulator and not an adviser to the UK Government. I am grateful to the Minister for his letter and the constructive conversations we have had, but I join the noble Baronesses in asking for these further assurances and hope we receive them.
My Lords, before I address the specific amendments in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Bowles, I will make an observation on the ruling from the Deputy Speaker on the previous group, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, sought to withdraw his amendment. It directly relates to this because, for all I know, the same might happen in this case, too. I put on record for future discussions the question of why, as is the normal practice of the House, amendments are not the property of the House once they have been moved.
I understand that was the case when, on 26 November, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, moved his amendment in the ping-pong on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill. He sought to withdraw it, but other noble Lords were not content that he should and the House then voted on it. I do not understand the difference between what happened on 26 November on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill and what happened today when the noble and learned Lord sought to withdraw his amendment. I think this is quite an important point about the procedure of the House and whether, on significant issues of this kind, the House, rather than an individual noble Lord, has responsibility for amendments that have been moved.
Similar issues apply to these two amendments. The essential issue in respect of both is the one that was at stake in respect of the previous amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas: are we prepared to accept from Ministers assurances on consultation when, to be absolutely blunt, we do not entirely trust their bona fides, or do we think that the right thing to do is to put on the face of the Bill requirements for consultation?
The issue in respect of state aid is more serious. As the noble and learned Lord has just stressed, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, noted in her opening remarks, the issue of state aid and subsidies is not, under the devolution Acts, reserved to the United Kingdom Government. It not being reserved to the United Kingdom Government, the presumption should therefore be that it is devolved, and, that being so, it is absolutely right and reasonable that the devolved Governments should formally, on the face of the legislation, be required to be consulted before new rules on state aid are made. Therefore, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is absolutely appropriate, as it would require the consent of the devolved Ministers within a period of 18 months, so she has a process for resolution if agreement cannot be reached. I also support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, which would require the process by which changes are made to be subject to explicit parliamentary debate and consent.
These are not small issues. I know that, as always at this stage of Bills, there is a desire to try to hustle things through at the end, but these are fundamental issues relating to the devolution settlement and its relationship to Brexit in the years ahead. It is absolutely right that we should spend time in this House debating these fundamental constitutional issues and not take vague assurances from Ministers, many of whom—let us be absolutely frank—do not particularly believe in devolution.
I suspect that that is true of the Minister who is addressing the House today. I know him well enough to say that I do not think he particularly believes in devolution and would like the chance to row it all back and simply decree things from the centre. I give him the benefit of my respect for him. I do not think that he does any of the waffle, saying that they are going to consult SNP Ministers in Edinburgh and Labour Ministers in Cardiff and take their advice seriously. That is not how he does politics; he does politics from the centre, just like the Prime Minister, who said that devolution was “Blair’s biggest mistake”, letting the cat out of the bag as to what he really thinks. I think that this Minister probably takes the same view.
That is all the more reason why this House and Parliament should not simply accept vague assurances made by the Minister and the Prime Minister about consultation on devolution. We should rightly fear that what will happen is the ripping up of fundamental principles in respect of devolution as part of this Brexit mania, in which people seem to believe that only things decided by UK Ministers sitting in Whitehall offices should happen within the territory of the United Kingdom. If that happens—and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, were absolutely right to say it—we will see the systematic undermining of the devolution settlement, and that could fundamentally destabilise the Government of the United Kingdom.
Therefore, big, centrally important constitutional principles are at stake here, and I will strongly support both the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Bowles, if they press their amendments to a vote. It is very important that noble Lords are on the record as to their position when it comes to defending and taking forward the devolution settlement in our United Kingdom.
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that we on these Benches are not keen to hustle this through; we are keen to see one or other of these amendments put back so that we can continue to have the discussions in this area that we need.
I shall speak briefly to both amendments, starting with Amendment 50F, as put forward by my noble friend Lady Bowles. The Minister said that the amendment limited Parliament’s scope. Au contraire, it would make sure that Parliament was in the driving seat of any significant changes. State aid is clearly important—so important that the Government are prepared to crash the entire economy to maintain control of it. If state aid is so important, Parliament and not Ministers or the Secretary of State should be in the driving seat. That, briefly, is what my noble friend Lady Bowles’s amendment seeks.
On Amendment 50E, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, even through the attenuation of the virtual system, her passion for and understanding of devolution, her understanding of the union and the threat she sees posed to it by the overall communication atmosphere created by this Bill and other things—a view which many of us share—rang through her speech. It is clear that, without co-creation, as she called it, that threat to the union remains strong. The Minister should heed the noble Baroness and, whether or not she presses her amendment, look at ways of genuinely bringing on board the devolved authorities so that there is shared ownership of this important process. If either proposer presses their amendment, we will support them.
My Lords, I agree with others who have spoken that this has been an interesting debate. It is clear that good discussions have taken place between Ministers and the movers of the amendments, which is a good sign and reflects changes.
The Government have made a concession and a commitment to extensive consultation prior to bringing forward proposals for their state aid regime. That is a major change compared to where we were at the start of this Bill, which we welcome.
Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, we agree that control of state aid and the regime which underpins it must lie at the UK level, but, as we discussed when debating a recent regret amendment to the statutory instrument referred to by the Minister, we think that policy development in this area has been quite bizarre. How on earth Parliament is expected to opine on state aid rules without first knowing what those state aid rules might be—whether we are continuing where we were, whether we are changing to WTO or whether it is somewhere in between—is beyond me; it is not the way we normally do things, as we made clear in that debate. I imagine, and it has been said by others, that it is because this issue is still at the heart of the never-ending discussions in Brussels about the future of the EU free trade agreement. We may begin to see progress once that is resolved, but we are where we are, and we are moving to World Trade Organization rules—much discredited—on 1 January and have yet to consult on an appropriate state aid regime. This is not the way we should do things.
However, we on this side of the House accept that Ministers have given assurances at the Dispatch Box, and they have been repeated today, that spending on state aid, as opposed to the control of policy on it, is an issue that has to respect the devolution settlement. It needs to be done in a way which brings forward the consultation and the seeking of consent that have been discussed by just about everybody who has spoken today. However, a final assurance from the Dispatch Box is required to take the trick on this matter. If the Government repeat that they will make every effort to work consultatively and seek the consent of the devolved Administrations, I do not think that this is right amendment on which to divide the House on this issue or the right time to do it, so we would not support that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, on the other hand, is moving ahead of the game, looking to future changes and asking how they would be introduced. She is right that these are big decisions that need to be thought through very carefully. If they are to be slipped through in some form of secondary legislation, they will not achieve the scrutiny and debate that they should. She makes some good points about that, and about the gap that will emerge if there is no primary legislation, let alone the need for consultation and discussion with those who have to implement the legislation once it is brought in. Although I discussed it with the noble Baroness prior to this evening’s debate, I suspect that this amendment has been picked up too late to be included in the Bill at this time. As she said, however, it would be good to hear the Minister set out his plans at the Dispatch Box. Again, if he does so, I would not be prepared to divide the House on this issue.
My Lords, I have once again listened carefully to the points made in the debate today. It is always particularly entertaining to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who has once again benefited us with his Brexit prejudices. I give some advice to the noble Lord: he just needs to accept that we had a referendum on this subject as well as a general election that was mainly devoted to it. He really needs to use his considerable talents in other areas and get on with his life. The issue is settled; we are leaving the European Union. I respect his ideas and opinions, but he lost. As a Conservative from the north-east, I know when I have lost an election, and there have been plenty of them in the past.
Regarding devolution, in my previous job I chaired the Joint Ministerial Committee with the devolved Administrations on ongoing EU business. I attended many meetings with both Scottish and Welsh Ministers. Of course, we did not always agree on the outcomes or the issues, but we certainly had a very good personal relationship. I listened to their concerns very closely, as indeed they listened to mine; as I said, we had a good working relationship.
I reiterate, first, that I welcome the shared consensus in this House to continuing the UK-wide approach to subsidy control and confirming this in law. While I am grateful for the time and the effort that has been devoted to scrutinising this provision as is right for your Lordships’ House—perhaps too much time and effort, but we are where we are—it is important to note that we have asked the other place, the elected Chamber, to think again on the relationship between subsidy control and common frameworks. It has been clear that subsidy control does not fall within the common frameworks programme, and that any undue delay is not something to be supported. I hope that noble Lords will be able to respect that decision. I recognise the concerns of the Welsh and Scottish Governments, but I reiterate that the noble Baroness’s amendment is not the best way forward. This amendment is inconsistent with the reservation clauses that both Houses have now agreed should remain in the Bill.
I also reiterate that state aid has always been reserved and, as such, has never been part of the common frameworks programme. This amendment seeks to reverse a decision which has already been made. We need to move forward on this issue as I have indicated, and this will be done through the forthcoming consultation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked me for an assurance that we will make every effort to get devolved Administrations’ support. Amendment 51B demonstrates that the Government are committed to maintaining a constructive, collaborative relationship with the devolved Administrations, as it is in all our interests to ensure that a new regime works for the whole of the United Kingdom. We hope that this amendment will enable us to discuss and resolve any such issues before the publication of any consultation response, and we will commit to listen very carefully to the devolved Administrations’ concerns.
We all agree that the UK Government and devolved Administrations should work constructively and co- operatively in this policy area. That is why, as I have said, the UK Government have set out an amendment that commits to consulting them. The amendment ensures that, before publishing any relevant report relating to the outcome of the UK subsidy control consultation, the Secretary of State will provide a draft of the proposed response to the devolved Administrations, inviting them to make representations. The Secretary of State will then consider any representations and determine whether to alter the report in light of that consideration. If after all that we decide to legislate, it will, of course, come to this House.
This process will ensure that the devolved Administrations’ voices are heard, but it avoids creating the unnecessary delays and confusion that a legislative requirement to try to agree a common framework would introduce. Potentially waiting 18 months for a UK-wide system to be agreed would create uncertainty for UK businesses and damage our efforts to promote the UK’s economic recovery. For these reasons, I respectfully suggest that the approach put forward in the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is not appropriate at this time.
I reiterate that Amendment 50F, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, is premature in so far as it seeks to determine particular aspects of the UK’s future approach to subsidy control. This amendment would seek to limit Parliament’s ability to legislate in this policy area and undermine the forthcoming consultation that we have committed to publish in the coming months. I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, that we will consult on whether to go further than those existing commitments, including, as she asked me, on whether primary legislation is necessary. We want a system that promotes a competitive and dynamic approach to our economy throughout the UK.
As I set out earlier, state aid rules will not apply to the UK from 1 January as they currently do. This issue was debated and agreed by both Houses in the recent state aid revocation SI debate, in which the noble Baroness took part. The SI provides absolute legal certainty on this point. The EU’s state aid rules, as the noble Baroness well knows, were designed to meet the needs of the single market in the EU. The Government have always been clear that the UK will have its own approach to subsidy control; we want a modern system designed to support British business in a way that fulfils all our interests.
The forthcoming consultation remains the best way in which to design the details of a future UK-wide approach to subsidy control. The Government’s commitment to consulting the DAs on this matter reflects the importance of moving forward in a collaborative and constructive manner. For all those reasons, the Government cannot agree with Amendments 50E and 50F, and I invite both noble Baronesses not to press them to a Division.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I start by commenting on the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. She highlighted the constitutional issues here and that this is ahead of its time.
As my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said, we need a unified state aid scheme and we need something in the Bill to strengthen and not weaken the union, because the devolved Administrations must be fully involved. I appreciate the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for supporting the devolved Administrations. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, made some very important points about who is in the driving seat and heard clearly and reiterated the threat that some of us see to the union, as well as the need for co-creation. I appreciate very much the support that he has offered.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is right that there has been a good discussion, but I am not convinced that we have really heard enough from the Minister. While the Minister certainly works with the devolved Administrations—and I am not disputing that—I was listening very carefully for the words that “consent” would be sought over agreements and that there would be “agreement”. Simply consulting is not enough; one can consult and then reject and ignore whatever is said.
Being at a distance in the hybrid House, it is difficult to feel the atmosphere in the Chamber or know what the feeling of the House is. Some may disagree, but my feeling is, from where I am now, that many in the House are unionists and feel passionately that we must not jeopardise that union and must strengthen, however we can, the working between the devolved Administrations and Westminster. Therefore—hesitantly, but I feel that there is a need for it—I wish to test the opinion of the House, because I wish to give all Members of the House, whichever Bench they sit on, the opportunity to vote according to their conscience over the threat that this poses to the union going forward. I beg to move.
Motion G2 (as an amendment to Motion G)
At end insert “but do propose Amendment 50F in lieu—
50F: After Clause 50, insert the following new Clause—
The Secretary of State may not, by exercise of powers under this or any other enactment, make any changes to the test for a harmful subsidy, remedies, the scope of exemptions and conditions or time limits on approvals.””
Motion G2 (as an amendment to Motion G) not moved.
Motion G agreed.