To ask Her Majesty’s Government on what dates the Prime Minister will convene discussions with the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland regarding the co-ordinated implementation of the policies on which their respective governments were re-elected together with the implementation in Wales and Scotland of UK Government policies which impact on the responsibilities of the two devolved administrations.
My Lords, the Prime Minister spoke to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, as well as the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, last week. In those discussions, he invited them to join him at a Covid recovery summit for discussion of shared challenges and future joint working.
My Lords, while I welcome the proposed meeting on Covid recovery, does the Minister accept that this dialogue should be in the context of a broader agenda, including a comprehensive reset of intergovernmental relationships? Is he aware that this is a fundamental issue in the context of the working of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, which the Welsh Government regard as an unacceptable and unconstitutional encroachment on the devolution settlement? Do the UK Government recognise that a durable working relationship between the Governments depends on resolving this issue and establishing an acceptable system of co-decision-taking between the four nations? Will the Minister commit the UK Government to such an approach?
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s welcome of the Prime Minister’s initiative. On intergovernmental relations, I laid a Statement before the House—I think on 21 March—on the significant progress made in those discussions. I am confident that further progress will be made on those co-operative instruments.
My Lords, our world-beating vaccination programme was a UK achievement. Our independence allowed us to move quickly and our size allowed us to buy big. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that, while it is perfectly legitimate for politicians to argue for a reset—as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, did—or democratic partition of this country, the focus must be on recovering from the worst economic trauma any of us has ever experienced?
I absolutely agree with my noble friend. That is the commitment of the Prime Minister, and I have every hope that it will be the commitment of the other First Ministers and leading Ministers involved. Our nation gained enormously from the resources of the United Kingdom, including financial, Armed Forces, co-operative, technical and scientific ones. That lesson has not gone unnoticed by people in every corner of these isles.
My Lords, I hope that the calling of this summit by the Prime Minister is a signal of a change of approach, and a signal that we are about to see a new era with a better balance of respect and co-ordination across the four nations of the United Kingdom. Given the economic responsibilities of the devolved Governments in relation to tax, the environment, climate change, skills and so on, will the economic recovery be top of the agenda at this summit? Also, will the summit be followed up by another event, with the Chancellor ensuring that the devolved Governments are fully integrated into the UK’s economic recovery following Covid-19?
My Lords, let us begin where we begin—with the forthcoming summit. I am grateful to the noble Lord for welcoming the Prime Minister’s initiative. I agree with what the noble Lord said about the fundamental importance of economic recovery. Again, repeating what I said earlier, I am sure that everyone in all parts of this kingdom will put their shoulders behind it.
The Conservative Member of Parliament for Aberconwy promised Conwy County Borough Council at a recent meeting access to a £20 million capital sum from the levelling-up fund and £3 million from the community renewal fund. Money from the shared prosperity fund, he indicated, would go directly to that council. Is it government policy that Members of Parliament should be announcing largesse in this way? What discussions have there been or will there be with the Welsh Government about the sharing out of public money in Wales?
My Lords, with all respect, I regret to say that the minutes of Conwy County Borough Council are not on my reading list, but obviously I will add them to it instantly. The spending power will cover infrastructure, economic development, culture and sport, and will support education and training activities and exchanges in the UK and internationally. It will complement the devolved Administrations’ existing powers and will allow the UK Government to deliver investment more flexibly and dynamically. It will also strengthen the support given to citizens and businesses in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales without taking any responsibilities away from the devolved Administrations.
My Lords, although we absolutely accept that we must get over Covid and move towards an economic recovery, surely there is another urgency: the very future of the union. The Cabinet Secretary said that that was
“at the forefront of policy making in Whitehall”.
Surely this summit must also look at the review of intergovernmental relations and the workings of the internal market Act, as well as the issue of who spends the money in the devolved areas. Can the Minister assure us that the summit will look at enhancing the way in which the four nations work together so that we preserve the union, because there is some real urgency behind that too?
Of course I thoroughly endorse what the noble Baroness says about the importance of the United Kingdom. It was a pleasure to see our two parties stand shoulder to shoulder on that issue in the recent elections north of the border. I have indicated that the Government attach importance to the IGR discussions and the way forward there. I cannot add anything more to that but I assure noble Lords that we will report to the House on further developments in that area. I take the noble Baroness’s point about the importance of the United Kingdom; that is absolutely paramount in everything that this Administration seek to do.
My Lords, I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Policies and laws in and between England, Scotland and Wales are becoming increasingly devolved. Obviously that is the point of devolution and is only likely to increase after the recent election results. Is the Minister confident that the Government are providing sufficient support, particularly to English councils and police forces, to tackle the resulting issues? These range from, to give two examples, so-called smacking bans in Scotland and Wales but not in England—I have heard that this is creating problems for children’s services—to the fact that the possession of the extremely dangerous poison carbofuran, which is used regularly in the illegal slaughter of raptors in Scotland and England, is illegal in Scotland but not in England.
My Lords, the noble Baroness went into a number of detailed issues. Given that the Green Party has, very sadly, endorsed the break-up of our United Kingdom, it comes oddly from her to suggest that things should not be different in Scotland from how they are in England.
My Lords, I want to be helpful to the Minister—for a change. Is he aware that, when the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, was First Minister of Scotland and I was Minister of State, there was great co-operation between the devolved Administration there and the UK Government? Why are the Scotland Office and the Wales Office not involved at the forefront of co-operation at the moment? It would be a great improvement for co-operation between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations. I understand that the Minister has the ear of the Prime Minister. Could he whisper in that ear and say, “This would help to cement and improve relations between Westminster, Whitehall and the devolved Administrations, and would help to ensure that the United Kingdom continues with greater strength”?
My Lords, I am sure that the Government always pay attention to the wise words of the noble Lord. I ascribe to him and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, personally the success of Scottish Labour in Dumbarton; I am sure that they campaigned very strongly, and I thank them for that. We seek to progress together on all aspects of policy. I hope that that will be the message that comes out of the summit shortly. I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, says.
My Lords, the people of Wales and Scotland voted for their own Parliaments. The people have spoken and confirmed that first decision. The Prime Minister struggled to obtain any acceptable deal for leaving the European Union. If he believes in the democratic decision on Europe, why is he so slow and so eager to prevent the vote of the people of Scotland, Wales and perhaps other countries to enable the people of the four nations of the United Kingdom to decide their own future?
My Lords, in reference to the events referred to by the noble Lord, I seem to recall the result of the referendum in Wales; perhaps I mis-recall it. I repeat: the earnest of the Prime Minister, in his statesman-like offer and suggestion for a summit meeting to unite everybody in an effort to achieve recovery from the problems mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, should be supported by the whole House. I hope that it will be received in that spirit by the Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.