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Lords Chamber

Volume 824: debated on Tuesday 25 October 2022

House of Lords

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Oaths and Affirmations

Lord Thurlow took the oath and Lord Soley made the solemn affirmation.

Growth Plan 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effects on (1) food production, and (2) environmental protection, of the Growth Plan 2022.

My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. A strong environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. To deliver our plan for growth, the Government will be looking closely at the frameworks for regulation, innovation and spending relevant to farming and land management to ensure that our policies are best placed both to boost food production and to protect the environment.

My Lords, I apologise for my naivety in tabling this Question 28 days ago, as I thought that the growth plan would still be zinging along. I ask the Minister—who I hope will be promoted later today—if he could give us one example in terms of food production that would be beneficial to, and supportive of, the National Farmers’ Union, and one example that members of the National Trust could support on environmental protection? Just one of each will do.

On food protection, members of the National Farmers’ Union will be pleased that the Government are looking to make farming more productive. Members of the National Trust can also support this because it will be done sustainably. National Trust members are members because they want to support our natural and built heritage, and hardwired into our environmental land management schemes and other environmental benefits is the need to manage our land for future generations.

My Lords, I say to my noble friend the Minister that, while it is obviously very important that we should promote policies to protect the environment, it is also very important that we should do nothing to prejudice domestic food production. Of the two, I suggest that the latter is more important.

I firmly believe that the two are not mutually exclusive. I was talking to an organisation called the Nature Friendly Farming Network, which, on one farm, is producing more food on 11% less land. All of us who are farmers know about those corners of fields that are farmed only because of the dishonest form of area payment that we have been living under for decades. There are schemes enabling farmers to be more productive off the land that should be farmed, thereby allowing us to continue to feed our hungry world sustainably.

My Lords, the Minister will no doubt remember that the biggest crisis in living memory to hit the UK farming sector was caused by deregulation. The BSE crisis arose because the regulations governing the processing of meat and bone meal were relaxed. In light of that, can he reassure us that there will not be further examples of deregulation in future that will threaten not only food safety but the future of the farming industry?

The noble Lord is absolutely correct. Reputable businesses—whether they are in farming, food production or any other sector—like good regulation because it means that they are not undercut by bad producers who produce poor-quality food unsustainably. We absolutely want to ensure that our regulations not only protect the environment but allow competent and decent producers to produce food that is much needed in society.

My Lords, I just add that because of Brexit, largely, we have an imported food crisis. Of course, such food costs so much more than it used to before Brexit. To suggest, as the Government do, that we should import more food will only add to the difficult situation ordinary people are in. Can the Minister give me an assurance that enough affordable food will be available to all the people here in the United Kingdom?

The greatest crisis in the food industry, indeed in the economy, in recent years has been Covid. What we managed to prove through that was that the supply chain of food to people who need it has been resilient. We want that to continue, but we also want food producers to produce the quality that is needed not only in these islands, but that can be exported abroad, so trade is fundamental to the growth we want to see.

My Lords, I draw attention to my conservation interests as listed in the register. Can the Government reassure conservation bodies—I know he is a great conservationist himself—that we are not going to water down environmental protections but, if anything, increase them?

The Government have to be absolutely clear about this because it is hard-wired into legislation, whether it is our net-zero commitments under the Climate Change Act or our protections under the Environment Act—world-leading legislation that will put into law such things as biodiversity net gain and the ambitions in the 25-year environment plan. This leaves precious little room for any Government of any persuasion to be foolish enough to damage our environment, which would mean that we could not achieve those objectives, which are written in law.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the environmental land management schemes. The Secretary of State—or is he now the previous Secretary of State?—had to deny plans that the new schemes were going to be ditched, but of course, that was before the Conservative Party crashed the economy. So can the Minister guarantee not only that ELMS is here to stay and that incentives will remain at current levels, but that our farmers will be protected from any trade agreements that would undermine our high standards?

Environmental land management schemes are here to stay. They will continue to be rolled out as we taper out area payments, which saw 55% of the money going to just 10% of the largest farmers. That was very unfair for small farmers. We will be helping smaller farmers to get a fairer share of the cake and we will continue to make sure that our trade agreements, in accordance with what has already been said, will not see a diminution of our animal welfare or environmental standards.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answers, but how will the investment zones in His Majesty’s Government’s growth plan dovetail with local and neighbourhood plans to protect their green spaces?

Investment zones will happen only where they are wanted by the local authority. The local authority might in some cases be a national park, and national parks do not want them. There are certain areas where they can be, but the Government are committed to green open spaces, the green belt and designated landscapes being maintained. We want to make sure that where there is a need for growth and jobs, which help the economy and help families and households keep a roof over their head and their pensions secured, this is not being done at a risk to the environment.

My Lords, recent data from the Food Foundation, of which I am proud to be a trustee, points out that, this September, 18% of households —over 10 million adults—had food insecurity. Some 58% of those households had cut down on buying fruit and 48% had cut down on buying vegetables, because they are too expensive. Where in the growth and future farming plans will we make vegetables and fruit more available to hungry people at reasonable prices?

First, we want to see more of our fruit and vegetables grown in this country and shorten the food miles to get them to the people who need them. We are supporting families as never before in a variety of ways, and food is a vital part of household expenditure, but it is far from the largest. The Government have to act holistically to make sure that, in these difficult times, we help families with energy and other household costs as well as food.

My Lords, if we are swift, we will have enough time for both noble Lords. We will hear from the noble Earl, Lord Leicester, and then the noble Lord, Lord Winston.

My Lords, I refer to my farming interests as listed in the register. Can my noble friend outline what this Government are doing to encourage more young people into the farming industry and to improve our food production?

My Lords, this is absolutely vital, as was brought home to me yesterday at the reception organised by TIAH and the noble Lord, Lord Curry. Teaching people the necessary skills is vital if we are to see the average age of farmers—which is my age, 62—come right down, and we can achieve that only if they have them.

My Lords, the Government say they want to protect families. Is the noble Lord fully aware of the epigenetic effects of a poor diet on literally thousands of children in hunger poverty? The Dutch winter disease, for example, showed very clearly that the long-term effects on cognitive ability and general health go right through to middle and old age. Can we be absolutely certain that the Government will do all they can to secure food, rather than worrying about some of the other aspects of the environment?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. There is ever-increasing evidence that poor diet makes individuals, particularly young people, susceptible to diseases not just while they are young but right through their lives. That is why our food strategy is not just a Defra strategy but must be across government; it relies on the expertise of people such as the noble Lord.

Direct Tax and National Insurance Contributions


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to ensure that an individual with an annual earned income of £30,000 will not pay more in direct tax and national insurance contributions than an individual with an annual unearned income of £30,000.

My Lords, different forms of income are subject to different tax treatments. For example, national insurance contributions are charged only on earned income, reflecting their historic basis as a social security contribution. The Government have acted to reduce the generous tax treatment of unearned income, including reducing the generosity of the dividends tax allowance in 2018. However, the Government keep all taxes under review.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. A worker on £30,000 a year currently pays £3,486 in income tax and £2,092 in national insurance—a total of £5,578. A speculator with £30,000 of capital gains pays no national insurance, even though he uses the NHS and social care, and pays only £1,770 in capital gains tax. This means that the worker pays £4,000 a year more in taxes than a speculator. Can the Minister explain why the tax system hits the workers the hardest?

The noble Lord gives one example. As he knows, individuals can be subject to different tax treatments depending on the type of income they receive and whether they are employed or self-employed or working through a company structure. I reassure him that the Government have taken action to reduce this disparity in tax treatment, for example by reforming the taxation of dividend income, reforming the main rates of dividend tax in 2016 and reducing the tax-free dividend allowance from £5,000 to £2,000 from 2018.

Will my noble friend join me in resisting any attempts to treat gains from capital at the same rate as income? People like me, called speculators by some, started up a new business with risk capital, which is easily lost, whereas others bank an income entirely risk-free; they should not be equated. It is worth reminding the House that a mobile 1% of taxpayers account for 30% of revenues.

My noble friend makes a good point. The Government are committed to a fair tax system in which those with the most contribute the most, but one which also has to encourage saving. The income tax system, we believe, is highly progressive: the top 5% are projected to pay half of all income tax in 2022-23. My noble friend also cited the other statistic: the top 1% are projected to pay over—he said 30%—actually 28% of all income tax. Crucially, the top 10% of the income distribution are estimated to receive 35% of all income but pay over 60% of all income tax liabilities.

My Lords, according to HMRC, most of the benefits of the lower rate of capital gains tax accrue to individuals resident in London and the south-east of England, and very little to less wealthy regions in the UK. Could the Minister please explain what assessment the Government have made of the impact of the capital gains tax regime upon regional incomes, and more importantly, wealth inequalities?

The noble Lord may be aware that at Spring Budget 2021 the Government froze the capital gains tax annual exempt amount—the so-called AEA—at £12,300 until 2026. However, the Government keep the UK tax system under constant review, as I alluded to earlier, to ensure that it is fair and simple for all taxpayers.

My Lords, next week’s fiscal event will, in the words of Jeremy Hunt, involve painful cuts to public spending. However, as part of his attempt to avoid calling a general election, the new Prime Minister has said that he is fully committed to delivering the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto. Does the Minister believe that these two positions can be reconciled, or are we about to see new tensions between 10 and 11 Downing Street?

We all wish the new Prime Minister well. I personally congratulate him on his victory and, as he said himself, he has a hard task—and more. But to answer the noble Lord’s question, certainly on the non-dom side, they play a very important role in funding our public services, and the rules were changed on non-doms, to bring an end to permanent non-dom status.

My Lords, do the Government believe that taxation should not only be fair but be seen to be fair? If so, are the Government still planning to scrap the cap on bankers’ bonuses? Does the Minister agree that this is not only unjust and unfair but an insult to so many people who are paying soaring mortgages, food and energy costs and struggling to feed their families?

I do not know of any plans to change the current position, which is that the cap was raised on bankers’ bonuses, and I may say, having had a long career in the city, that I think it is a very good thing. The reason for that is that we are in a position in London to recruit the very best bankers from around the world who generate income for the UK, and they pay more tax into the Treasury, so it is a very good thing.

The Minister did not dispute the figures from my noble friend Lord Sikka. Will he confirm that the figures were correct, and if they are correct, how does that fit in with the Government’s levelling-up agenda? Or has that been ditched?

The Prime Minister mentioned the levelling-up agenda today, and it is very much on course—as you probably heard, he cited the fact that we wish to revert back, which is quite right, to the 2019 manifesto. In terms of the noble Lord’s figures, I will need to look at Hansard to see what precisely he said, because it was a very specific issue that he raised.

My Lords, could my noble friend take these questions from the Labour Benches as a strong recommendation for the Government for simplifying the tax system and indeed, in time, for reducing the burden of tax by cutting the basic rate of income tax, as the Prime Minister has indicated he will do in the long term?

My noble friend is right: the Prime Minister has said, over a long period of time, that he is a tax-cutting individual—now a tax-cutting PM—but when the economic conditions allow. It is the right way forward, but there is a lot to do before we get to that point.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the percentage of tax coming from richer earners. I am sure he is aware of the figures showing that, in the last five years, median income has risen by 2.2% on average, but for the richest fifth of people it has risen by 4.7%, while the poorest fifth of people have seen a real fall of 1.6%. Does the Minister agree that this rising inequality of income is a problem?

First, on a serious note, we are very aware of the issues that many people are having to deal with at the moment, with the rising cost of energy and so on. The House is very aware of that. However, I do not agree with the noble Baroness, because the UK fares very well on an international basis. The UK’s taxes on wealth are on a par with those of other G7 countries, including inheritance, estate and gift taxes.

My Lords, could the Minister tell us what specifically is being done to stop people taking up residence or setting up companies in the overseas territories and Crown dependencies?

We are very aware of these sensitive matters. I alluded to what we are doing about these matters, including the non-dom status, earlier in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.

My Lords, could the Minister explain how we have become a high-tax but low-service-level—in terms of public services—economy? It is the worst of both worlds.

As I alluded to earlier, the aim is to lower taxes, but we have a lot to contend with as a result of Putin’s appalling war in Ukraine and ongoing energy costs. At the end of the day, we aspire to be a low-tax country.

My Lords, in October 2019, the well-respected Institute for Fiscal Studies said:

“We do not find any evidence that tax-motivated retention of profits translates into more investment in business capital.”

Does the Minister have alternative evidence? If not, how does the present system of taxing the poorest more than the wealthiest match the Government’s conscience?

I think there are two matters to raise here. It is very important to keep taxes as low as possible to help working people, so that the amount they earn goes further. Equally, it is very important to have policies in place to incentivise businesses—not just those within the UK but those which want to come and invest in the UK.

Environment Act 2021: Targets


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they will meet the requirement of the Environment Act 2021 to set targets by 31 October on air and water quality, biodiversity and resource efficiency and waste reduction.

My Lords, we are committed to halting the decline of nature by 2030 and will not undermine our obligations to the environment in pursuit of growth. A strong environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. We have legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision. His Majesty’s Government remain committed to the Environment Act and will publish ambitious, achievable and robust targets soon.

My Lords, the Minister will know that failure to set those targets before 31 October is unlawful and risks the Government being taken to court. It also makes a mockery of all those months of hard work we put into debating the then Environment Bill, because without the targets we have no way of measuring the progress the Government are making on the Act’s implementation. Is this another sign that the Government are backtracking on their environmental commitments, as—quite frankly—was becoming all too clear under the previous Prime Minister, who sneered at the broad coalition of environmentalists?

I will not sneer at any environmentalists. I sat on the board of several NGOs before I took on this role, and I mind desperately that we continue to be a leading country in how we protect the environment. We have consulted on those targets and had 180,000 responses, which are taking some time to go through. We will produce targets that are science-based, evidence-based and cover a range of issues which were of great concern to noble Lords as we took through the Environment Act. We will honour those commitments.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the biodiversity targets are not just for the abundance of above-ground species but for biodiversity in the soil? Soils are a critical part of the ecosystem. They are essential for farming and for wildlife to thrive, as we heard in the previous Question. They are mentioned multiple times in the Environment Act, yet I currently see no targets for soils in the targets set by the Government.

Soils are a fundamental part of our environmental land management schemes. The soil standard in the sustainable farming incentive is key to getting those ecological systems functioning properly and to their not being viewed, as they have too often been in recent decades, as just a medium into which you can add synthetic products to produce crops or grow stock. Soils are absolutely fundamental, as is our peat standard. There will be targets to restore peatland and ensure that soils are properly functioning ecosystems. The noble Baroness is absolutely right to raise this issue.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that improving water quality is vital? Can he tell us where we are with storm water overflows and ending the automatic right to connect?

The Environment Act places several duties on government and water companies to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows. The Government have now launched the most ambitious plan to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows in water company history. Our new, strict targets will see the toughest crackdown ever on sewage spills and will require water companies to secure the largest infrastructure programme in their history.

My Lords, may I press the Minister further on the quality of our rivers? Does he accept that, in order to get action taken effectively, targets have to be not only set but monitored; that those targets must then trigger action to ensure that there is improvement; and that this must be done by not only the UK Government in England but the other Governments in these islands, because many rivers cross borders? Will he give priority to this issue?

Absolutely. We had the water framework directive when we were part of the European Union. We have transposed it into UK law. We want to make sure that it is right for the United Kingdom’s environment. However, that directive had very clear markers, which, to be honest, we failed to hit over many decades. Now, with this investment and the huge drive towards different farming techniques, we should see much clearer evidence about how we will hit those targets to get our water courses flowing and functioning properly; that will be available to everyone.

My Lords, we have a biodiversity crisis but also a well-recognised housing crisis in rural areas. How do the Government seek to avoid the introduction of biodiversity net gain and the off-setting of 10% of biodiversity loss exacerbating the housing crisis, particularly in rural areas?

The noble Earl is absolutely right. We need to see more houses built. We want them built in the right place. Biodiversity net gain is a welcome addition to ensure that we not only protect habitats from damage but replace them—and some—in future. Small housing schemes in rural areas are, I am absolutely convinced, the right way forward because they have the almost unique element of being popular. We need to find housing particularly for younger families in rural areas, where they are finding it much too expensive. Exception site housing, which has been unbelievably helpful in that direction, needs to be stepped up a gear. I hope that my fellow Ministers in the new Administration will understand that this is a popular way of delivering housing.

My Lords, only 3% of our land and 8% of our seas are currently protected and managed, with a target of 30% by 2030. What further steps are the Government planning to take to meet legally binding biodiversity targets in the Environment Act 2021?

I have a graph in my office of “30x30”. We have to hit this target, otherwise we will have no credibility in international fora when we try to encourage countries right across the world to adopt our “30x30” ambitions; for example, in the COP in Montreal in December. We need to set out quite clearly how we are going to do this. The NGOs are a little pessimistic—I think the figures are higher than that—but we can achieve it. I shall have meetings with officials and other Ministers on this issue in the next few days. We will be turning up the heat to make sure that we not only hit but explain how we are going to hit that target.

My Lords, despite compelling evidence of the harm caused by toxic air, the Government repeatedly resisted attempts to put World Health Organization targets into the Environment Act. As there is no sign of those targets, does the Minister understand why so many people doubt the Government’s commitment to clean air? What assessment have they made of the costs to human health of their inaction over recent years, and when a target is eventually enshrined in law, will it be consistent with WHO guidelines?

One area that we consulted on as part of the huge consultation on our targets was reducing exposure to PM2.5, thereby benefiting public health through decreasing cases of heart disease and cancer. There were very moving speeches in a recent debate here about the impact that this can have on children. There are certain hotspots in what local authorities need to do. This is very much part of our environmental targets and one of our commitments given not only at the Dispatch Box during the progress of the Environment Bill but in other forms as well.

My Lords, what is the Minister’s reflection on the recent reports that only one river in England, the Tyne, met water quality standards to be able to sustain migratory fish? We cannot go on like this.

For most of my life, I have been an angler, a fly fisherman. In some respects, I suppose that I have depleted the stocks in rivers too, but not to the extent that pollution is now doing throughout England. I cannot speak for Scotland or Wales—theirs are different circumstances—but the reality is that we are not meeting our obligations.

The noble Lord has a passion that I share, and a passion for restoring the quality of our rivers. I spoke earlier about our commitments under European treaties and the water framework directive, and how we are transposing those into our ambitions for water quality across England. We want to ensure that we are hitting those targets. This is an absolute priority for my department. Whoever is my new Secretary of State, I am sure it will be his or hers as well.

My Lords, as we face a particularly challenging economic period, might the Government consider not sticking to environmental targets if they clash with economic development, growth and levelling up? In an earlier answer, the Minister fudged the hard choices that the Government face. Surely, paying farmers not to produce food will clash with the priorities of reaching environmental targets. Sometimes, you have to choose. I would suggest people and not environment.

I think that is a very simplistic argument. I think that we can continue to produce the food that we do and do it sustainably. I can tell the noble Baroness that there are areas of most farms that I have even been to—as a farmer or a consultant—that are farmed only because of the subsidies that those farmers received. They were uneconomic. If those farmers can concentrate, with new technologies and the new support that the Government will give them, on producing more off the rest of the farm, they will be able to support the needs of a growing population, the demands that people have as well as the demands of our economy.

Maternity and Neonatal Services


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take to implement the recommendations of the report by Dr Bill Kirkup Maternity and neonatal services in East Kent: “Reading the signals”, published on 19 October.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in so doing, I declare that I am remunerated for chairing the independent maternity review.

I am grateful to Dr Kirkup for this report. Our intention is to review the recommendations alongside existing work to improve maternity outcomes, including the recommendations from Donna Ockenden’s final report. With NHS England, we have established an independent working group chaired by the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists that we will use to support our considerations.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that as this has been a series of maternity tragedies across England, we must do all we can to prevent further disasters? Will he, with NHS England, introduce a maternity signalling system that identifies units providing poor care before they cause widespread harm?

I thank my noble friend. I agree. This was captured in recommendation 1 by Dr Kirkup about having early warning indicators in place. That is what we have set up in the maternity quality surveillance framework, which has the oversight in this area and can escalate concerns and effectively report to the national maternity safety surveillance and concerns group, which can then put the trust into special measures.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the trustees of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. I am aware that the Government have allocated an extra £200 million for maternity services over the last couple of years, but according to the Health and Social Care Select Committee this is not nearly enough. It recommends up to £350 million for staffing alone. Do the Government accept that, above all, more funding is needed now for multi-professional training and to support programmes to improve clinical practice? If so, can the Minister say how much funding the Government are prepared to allocate and when?

I agree. We are putting the money into the training programmes. We have actually put £95 million on top of the £127 million investment into this area. As ever though, what is most important is outcomes not investment. Alongside the tragic instances we have seen, we have seen a reduction in stillbirth of 19% since 2010, a reduction in neonatal mortality over 24 weeks of 36%, and a reduction in maternal mortality of 17%. Alongside these tragic findings of individual trusts, we have an improving picture of maternity care overall.

My Lords, in yesterday’s Statement on Dr Kirkup’s report, the Minister told us that 23 hospitals are in maternity safety support programmes—special measures—and that, while four are coming out, another 10 are due to go in. Can he assure the House that extra resources, including extra supervision, will be there to ensure that mothers and babies in those hospitals are absolutely safe?

Yes. Resourcing the special measures programme—for want of a better name—is vital to all of us. I am pleased to see in the case of East Kent that, of the 67 special measures recommended, it has now passed 65 and the two remaining ones will be completed by the end of November.

My Lords, this is the most recent of several reports identifying failures of maternity units in England. The CQC identified 40 maternity units that had failing safety standards. Bill Kirkup has not only produced a brilliant report but identified the way forward, by developing a matrix of standards of safety and outcomes that would apply to all maternity units to make them all high calibre, high standard and safe. Will the Minister agree that, by meeting Bill Kirkup, Ministers could ask him to identify the areas to draw up these standards? Because time is short, if the Minister agrees I will be happy to meet him to enlarge further.

I agree about wanting to implement the recommendations. My colleague Dr Johnson, the Minister in the other House, already met with Dr Kirkup this week. We also undertook to come back in the next four to six months with where we are on each of the recommendations. I will bring that back to the House then.

My noble friend referred to the first recommendation for the prompt establishment of a taskforce to develop maternity and neonatal outcome measures. It is over a decade since we introduced the NHS outcomes framework but, far too often, it is not used as the basis for accountability inside the National Health Service. Will he say whether that first recommendation will be acted on immediately?

As I mentioned before, we have already put this in place with the maternity quality surveillance framework. At the same time, if we feel that more needs to be done, it will be included in my review of the recommendations and report back to the House in four to six months.

My Lords, one of the significant things about this devastating report is that it does not deal with a list of one-off recommendations, as previous reports have. It deals with systemic issues that mean that the whole service is challenged. One of those, as we have already heard, is the difficulty in identifying risks. The other is why we do not hear what families are saying, which is clearly an issue in preventable deaths. One of the specific recommendations is that the Government should now bring forward a Bill that would place a duty on public bodies not to deny or deflect or conceal information from families. That should be a priority. Will the noble Lord take that back to his senior Ministers and get them to acknowledge it?

We all acknowledge a duty of candour. That should be fundamental to the leadership and to everyone in every trust. In this case, I was pleased to see the trust completely accept the findings and its failings and apologise unreservedly. That is something we need to make sure that all trusts do. We have the framework in place to do that but, if we do not, we will not hesitate to act further to ensure that it is.

My Lords, this alarmingly clear report flags up flawed teamworking as a major failing throughout. That also reflects previous reports. It also points out the unintended adverse consequences of using the phrase “normal births”, which should perhaps be replaced by “safe births”. Will the Government consider the problem of teamworking? Although there already is a joint group between the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, there also needs to be commissioning guidance to make sure that services are commissioned only when there is joint education and training, audit, and co-production of guidance with parents who have experience of the unit.

Again, we agree with Dr Kirkup’s third recommendation that teamwork is vital in all this. Some £26 million has been invested in maternity teamwork training, and a core curriculum has been set up for professionals in this area. Strong leadership has been established, with two national maternity safety champions and a number of regional and local maternity safety champions. We believe that we have the framework in place for these independent working groups but, as we review these recommendations, if we find they are inadequate we will not hesitate to act further. We will bring this back to you in the four-to-six-month timeframe when we report on the recommendations.

My Lords, the duty of candour has been in place for some years now, but there still seems an ingrained culture of denial and blame deep-rooted within these services. This is the third such report since 2015 and one of its central tenets is that women are just not listened to and are ignored, resulting in terrible deaths and disabilities for so many children. Can the Minister give us his assurance that the duty of candour and listening to women will be at the heart of the Government’s response?

My Lords, Dr Kirkup’s extraordinary report cites a lack of junior staff and, critically, a shortage of midwifery leadership as contributing to the tragedies at East Kent. In the absence of a comprehensive workforce strategy from the Government, and more midwives leaving than joining, what is being done right now to tackle the considerable number of midwifery vacancies that the NHS is suffering? It currently stands at well over 2,000.

The number of midwives has been stable over the last four years. We have seen a slight decline over the last year, which is why we have a training and recruitment programme to recruit 1,200 more midwives. In my main point, I echo the comments that Dr Kirkup made: working under pressure is no excuse for staff being rude and aggressive. While we want to recruit the extra numbers, I think that the whole House agrees that there is no excuse for what happened at East Kent.

Great British Railways

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 24 October.

“The case for rail modernisation is now stronger than when Keith Williams set out the plan for rail in 2021. Covid-19, recent macroeconomic events, industrial relations and financial challenges have increased the need for it. The railways are not meeting customers’ needs, with delays, unreliability and uncertainty exacerbated by the rail strikes. When people look at the rail sector, we need them to see a system that stands for reliability and sustainability, so it is clear that we have to change.

This Government will therefore deliver the most ambitious changes to our railways in a generation, and will deliver for the people who matter: our passengers, customers and taxpayers. Although we will not be introducing rail reform legislation during the current Session, due to limits on parliamentary time, we are committed to introducing the legislation necessary to create a guiding mind, Great British Railways, as soon as possible.

As many Members are aware, a competition was run to identify the location for the Great British Railways headquarters. I welcome the support of colleagues for the six shortlisted towns and cities, and I note that the honourable Member for York Central, Rachael Maskell, has been vocal in her support for York to be the winner. I hope to be able to announce the successful location shortly—subject to other events outside the Chamber. Ahead of the legislation, we will continue to work with the Great British Railways transition team and the wider sector to push ahead with our ambitious modernisation programme to deliver real benefits for customers.

Reforming our railways means more reliable trains, faster journey times—in all, a modern, future-facing rail industry; a sector with an unswerving focus on meeting the needs of its customers, creating a simpler, better railway for communities across Britain. There will be a GBR at the heart of our rail network, with its headquarters located in one of our great railway communities. The details will be confirmed shortly, but our commitment to deliver is unchanged.”

My Lords, we have universal agreement that the railways are in a chaotic mess. Great British Railways was supposed to be the answer. Why is it being delayed? Particularly, why has progress on the rail network enhancement pipeline been stalled, and when will the location of the Great British Railways headquarters be announced—or is this to be delayed indefinitely?

My Lords, the challenges facing our nation’s railways were very clearly set out—some years ago now—in the Plan for Rail. These challenges have been exacerbated by subsequent events, namely Covid, macroeconomic headwinds, and some challenges with industrial relations.

The Government remain committed to modernising our railways and transforming the industry. At its heart will be a focus on passengers. The consultation on Great British Railways and other reforms closed on 4 August. We had 2,500 very good responses. We will be working through that feedback to help us shape the way forward with Great British Railways.

The Government have invested and will continue to invest billions of pounds. On the RNEP specifically, we know that the use of the railways has changed. There has been a shift away from commuting and towards leisure. Where we invest taxpayers’ money must reflect that. We are looking at the RNEP and will have it published shortly.

Finally, I am hoping that there will be an announcement shortly on the location of the Great British Railways headquarters.

My Lords, the state of our railways is a national embarrassment. Yet the withdrawal of this Bill is evidence that the Government are not prioritising them. Meanwhile, the tables of the Royal Gallery are littered with Bills that reflect the extremes of Conservative ideology and are of no practical use or value to ordinary, hard-pressed citizens. Will the Minister take the opportunity presented by a new Prime Minister this week to press the case again for the inclusion of this Bill in his new list of priorities? While she has his ear, will she press him to ensure that railway fares do not go up in line with inflation next year, as this would be a bitter blow to commuters?

My Lords, I cannot agree that those Bills are no good to anybody. I think that the Energy Prices Bill will be warmly welcomed by consumers across the country.

Some legislation is needed for rail reform. However, it should also be noted that we can deliver an enormous amount of what we have promised without legislation. These are things such as workforce reform, increasing competition within the system, improving the ticketing system, starting local partnerships, and, most importantly, the long-term strategy for rail. This will set out the 30-year vision that will be taken forward by Great British Railways. We are making good progress and will bring the legislation forward as parliamentary time allows.

My Lords, for years I have used the east coast main line, at present run by LNER. Will the Minister join me in congratulating LNER on improving services? It is very efficient now after the pandemic—which was a difficult period, obviously, but it is back to optimum efficiency. A lot of it is due to the pleasant nature of, and service provided by, the staff, and, of course, an improved menu. LNER is of course run by the Department for Transport. Does this not provide fairly solid evidence and clear proof that a railway can operate efficiently while publicly owned?

I agree with the noble Lord that staff are absolutely key. We have some very hard-working staff across the system. We need to ensure that those staff are in place to serve passengers where they are absolutely needed. It is the case there are some very outdated workforce practices within the railway system, which need to be upgraded so that we can offer a modern, seven day a week service. However, I say to the noble Lord that it is about simplification of the system, not nationalisation.

My Lords, I have been travelling up and down the east coast main line for 71 years, and I would like to place on record how incredibly helpful, polite and nice all the staff are, whether it be actually in Scotland or in England. They deserve a serious clap on the back.

My Lords, further to my noble friend’s reply, while understanding the reason for postponing the legislation, can she confirm that it will not stop worthwhile reform, such as simplifying ticketing, introducing more e-tickets, replacing diesel trains on branch lines with battery electric trains and other steps such as providing more real-time information about trains?

I can absolutely assure my noble friend that the Government are hard at work with the train operating companies, Network Rail and everybody in the railway industry to make sure that as much progress that can be made is being made. For example, the accessibility audit of all railway stations is now well under way and should yield really good results for accessibility in the future.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware from previous questions of the considerable concern about the service between Euston and Holyhead. Members of all parties in another place have raised it on a number of occasions. Given the seriousness of the position, which is that what used to be eight through trains a day is now down to one, what is the Minister doing about this? She has recognised the problem. Has she taken any action?

Yes, I do recognise the problem. We absolutely have taken action. We have daily meetings with the train operating company. It has put together a recovery plan, which has been reviewed by the ORR and Network Rail’s programme management office. There will be a very significant step change in the timetable in December, because 100 newly trained train drivers are going to be fully deployed by December. So early December will be the next change in the timetable, and we expect significant improvements to services to Wales and elsewhere at that time.

Today there are 44 cancellations on the TransPennine Express. What do the Government intend to do about that?

I am aware that the TransPennine Express is suffering a significant number of cancellations at the moment. The Government are working very closely with the train operating company. There are many factors which are contributing to those cancellations, but I agree that they are unacceptable. We are working closely with the train operating company to resolve them where we can.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of Transport for the North. A number of people find the announcement of the delay in the Bill very disappointing, as the Williams report was commissioned in 2018 and reported in 2021. Will my noble friend confirm that the work that is already being done at the department will carry on at pace? There is a guiding mind at the moment for the railways; it is the Treasury. Can we get away from the fact as soon as possible that the only guiding mind at the moment is the Treasury, not the Department for Transport?

My noble friend will be aware that the guiding mind for the railways now is the Great British Railways transition team, which is focusing on all the reforms that we want to put in place. I accept that there will be some disappointment about the delay to the Bill. However, as I have previously outlined, it does not mean that work in the department has slowed down at all. We have a very energetic rail Minister, and I know that he will be taking forward these things at pace.

My Lords, the Minister referred two or three times to accessibility during her responses. While the new passenger assistance app is extremely helpful, it still does not have any functionality to buy tickets. When booking assistance, I have to actually book a seat that I cannot use when I buy my ticket elsewhere. When will this be resolved? All disabled groups ask for it to happen with the app.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for raising that with me. I will take that back to the department. I know that there is a significant amount of work going on in relation to how online ticketing works. Clearly, it has to work with the accessibility app, and I will make sure that we take that up and see what we can do.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young, made some very good suggestions today—although he is one of the guilty men responsible for the privatisation of the railways, which has caused most of the trouble. The Minister gave replies today that were very similar to replies that she gave to the noble Lord, Lord Young, and others weeks ago and months ago, and yet nothing is happening. When are we going to get away from the position that she says something here, but nothing actually happens on the ground? Will she and her colleagues go out and actually travel on the trains for once?

I will do that if the noble Lord stops pointing at me. The reality is that an enormous amount has actually happened. It takes time to put these things in place. There are two main issues when it comes to Avanti, for example. The first is the massive shortage of fully trained drivers, which was exacerbated by the need to stop training during the Covid period. As I mentioned, 100 drivers have now come through the system. However, the number one thing that would really help to restore services on Avanti is better co-operation from the trade unions.

Doncaster Sheffield Airport

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 24 October.

“Following the strategic review of the airport announced in July this year, the Government are incredibly disappointed that Peel Group has taken the difficult decision to announce the potential closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport. While it was a commercial decision made by the owners of the airport, I fully appreciate the impact it has had not only on passengers who use the airport, including the constituents represented by many honourable Members in the South Yorkshire region, but on those businesses, organisations and people who work at the airport and within the supply chain.

As I know from growing up underneath the flightpath of Manchester Airport, regional airports are key in serving our local communities, supporting thousands of jobs in the regions and acting as a key gateway to international opportunities. That is why during the pandemic the Government supported airports through schemes such as the airport and ground operations support scheme, through which Doncaster Sheffield Airport was able to access grant funding.

I need to be clear that, while the UK Government support airports, they do not own or operate them. However, devolved Administrations, local and combined authorities are frequently shareholders in airports that serve their communities, as is the case with Manchester Airports Group, Birmingham Airport, London Luton Airport and, most recently, Teesside International. The UK aviation market operates predominantly in the private sector. Airports invest in their infrastructure to attract airlines and passengers. We will continue to support all parties to seek a commercial or local solution.

Since the announcement by Peel Group on the airport’s future on 13 July, the Government have been actively working with local stakeholders to encourage a future for aviation at the site. My honourable friend the Member for Don Valley, Nick Fletcher, and the Department for Transport have met Peel, and I understand that the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority and Doncaster Council have been working during the review to explore options for a locally led solution. The local authorities have now written to Peel Group to pass on the details of those who are interested in potential options to invest in the airport, and I understand that Peel has begun to engage with those parties.

The aviation Minister, Baroness Vere, met Peel on 19 October and strongly encouraged it to look seriously at any commercial interest. She has also been proactively encouraging Peel Group to strongly consider the local and combined authorities’ offers of bridging support if it requires extra time to take forward any discussions with investors.

The Government remain engaged and we look forward to seeing further progress. The House has today highlighted the importance of Doncaster, and I will convey the strength of feeling among Members present to Baroness Vere as she continues her work. I call on Peel Group to continue to work with stakeholders to find a commercial solution or to minimise the impact of its review of the airport.”

My Lords, the Opposition have called for this UQ since I understand that it is the Minister’s personal responsibility. Would she like to expand on the points made—or, indeed, not made—in the other place? In particular, why has the Secretary of State refused to meet local representatives? Further, is it not the Minister’s responsibility to support a solution between the combined authority, Peel Holdings and potential buyers? Why have the Government refused to use the Civil Contingencies Act?

The Government have had several—actually 13—ministerial-level meetings since towards the end of July. The Transport Secretary, for example, met Mayor Oliver Coppard from SYMCA on 22 September and Mayor Jones from Doncaster County Council. She has also spoken to Peel Group twice. I have spoken to Peel Group, to 2Excel, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who I see is in his place, and to local MPs. The reality is that my officials are in constant contact with all the relevant parties. If I feel that I can help further, I certainly will. On using the Civil Contingencies Act, we looked very closely at it, and it has a very high bar. I should note to noble Lords that, despite all the emergencies we have had in this country since the Act was passed 20-odd years ago, Part 2 of that Act has never been used: no emergency has managed to reach that high bar. We did look at it and we have challenged ourselves to ensure that the contingency plan is in place. Those tenants who will be leaving DSA are robust, and therefore their contracts can continue.

My Lords, many local airports have been in trouble since Covid. However, this airport is of great strategic significance. It has one of the longest runways in the UK, it is the home of the national coastguard operations, and it is the base for the National Police Air Service. This is, therefore, of very great national significance, not a little local difficulty. Will the Minister therefore undertake to treat this as a problem of national significance, and does she agree that the Government need to provide tangible support—not just warm words—for local representatives?

The Government do not own or operate airports; local authorities and devolved Administrations do—for example, Manchester, Birmingham, Luton and Teesside. We very much feel that, if there is a local solution to be had, it will come from local knowledge, from those local authorities. For reassurance, I have spoken to 2Excel about its contingency plans, which wrote to the former Prime Minister setting out that it would be able to continue with its work, and the Home Office is content that the NPAS will also be able to continue its work. While we are deeply disappointed by Peel’s decision, I have strongly urged the group to engage with all interested parties should a commercial solution be available.

My Lords, the National Police Air Service’s entire fixed-wing aircraft fleet is based at Doncaster Sheffield Airport. The fixed-wing element of the UK’s life-saving search and rescue service is based at Doncaster Sheffield Airport. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has aircraft on-call there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Peel will close the airport within two or three weeks from today. The consequence is that 2Excel will move all of these and the engineering facilities to what it describes as “boltholes” spread across the United Kingdom. What assessment has the Department for Transport made of the extent to which services will be disrupted or degraded permanently as a result? What effect will that have on the risk to life, particularly as we go into the winter? What steps is the Department for Transport taking to ensure that there is no danger to life in those circumstances?

As the noble and learned Lord will know from when he encouraged me—fairly robustly, I might add—to look at the CCA regarding this issue, we have been in touch with 2Excel. I have spoken to the company myself, and it is fair to say that it feels quite aggrieved at the way it has been treated by Peel. I have to say that I have some sympathy with that. Peel has publicly stated that it will work to minimise disruption to its tenants; I very much hope that it will honour what it has said, rather than leaving it to the courts to wrangle over the leases, which will be brought to an end early. We have spoken to 2Excel and have had written confirmation that the contracts in place for search and rescue for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will not be impacted. As I said previously, I have also had assurance from the Home Office that NPAS will also be able to function.

My Lords, associated with Doncaster Sheffield Airport has been a huge amount of public funding of infrastructure such as roads. Are the Government going to make any attempt to recover some of those funds from the Peel Group? We went through the same cycle with what was Sheffield Airport, when a huge amount of public money went in and then Peel Group pulled out. Will the Government ensure that the future use of that infrastructure and, indeed, the airport will support small and medium-sized enterprises, co-operatives and genuine prosperity in the local community?

Regarding the infrastructure that was put in around Doncaster Airport, such as roads, I have travelled along a road there, which was fairly new and of incredibly high quality. It was of course put there to support the airport and to enable passengers and workers to get to and from the airport, but it should be said that Peel Group invests for the long term. I do not know what its plans are for the longer-term site at Doncaster Airport, should it eventually no longer be used as an airport. However, it is a prime, very large site in an area with a significant number of people who would have the skills to develop various businesses there. I anticipate that any infrastructure that has been put in would be utilised by whatever takes place at the airport.

My Lords, as Members of this House may know, I very seldom, if ever, praise the Scottish Government. However, in the case of Prestwick Airport they have done the right thing and for the right reasons. It seems to be very similar to Doncaster Sheffield Airport. Prestwick has a very long runway, and it has a search and rescue facility—the parallels are amazing. Will the Minister therefore give one clear assurance today: that she and her colleagues will have a word with the Scottish Government and look at what they have done to keep Prestwick Airport? The father of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, and I did a lot to protect it way back in the 1970s and 1980s. Will the Minister please talk to Ministers in Scotland and see if the United Kingdom Government can follow their example in respect of Doncaster Sheffield Airport?

As I said at the outset, it is not unusual for the devolved Administrations or local authorities to take stakes in or have interests in airports, and some of them have been incredibly successful. It is pleasing to see that Prestwick is now successful; there was a time when it was not. Certainly, Manchester and Luton have recovered from the pandemic particularly well. As I said previously, the Government do not own or operate airports and will not be stepping in with UK taxpayers’ money in these circumstances.

My Lords, can the Minister explain how the closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport, in an area that desperately needs investment, contributes to the Government’s growth plan?

The question is more relevant to regional connectivity, which is absolutely key for growth. As we set out in our 10-year strategic framework for aviation, we are very much focused on regional connectivity. Anybody who knows the geography of the area around Doncaster Sheffield Airport knows that it is not the only airport in the area. Other airports are easily accessible from many of the places around there, so it has quite a limited, unique catchment area, which may have contributed to Peel’s decision that it was not viable in the medium term. I understand that other consultants have looked at it, potentially, for the local authorities and reached the same conclusion.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned that Doncaster has a very long runway, and my noble friend said that it was like Prestwick’s. Manston in Kent has an equally long runway, or maybe longer, and so does Newquay in Cornwall. Newquay is being used by Virgin to get the first rocket into space, I believe. Do the Government think that long runways are important, or are they quite happy for all these to be sold because we have short take-off and landing and do not need long runways any more?

Of course, they do not get sold. These runways are in private hands or the hands of local authorities. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the issue of Newquay. It just goes to show what airports can do. By adding a spaceport to the airport, it is broadening its revenues and looking to the future. The Government very much hope that the launch of the Virgin Orbit rocket will take place as soon as possible.

Digital Government (Disclosure of Information) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022

Motions to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 15 and 18 July be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 18 October.

Relevant document: 11th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Motions agreed.

Supply and Appropriation (Adjustments) Bill

Second Reading (and remaining stages)

Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 44 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.

Energy Prices Bill

Third Reading

Moved by

My Lords, I have it in command from His Majesty the King to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Energy Prices Bill, has consented to place his interest, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

My Lords, in respect of the King’s consent being signified, can the Leader of the House say exactly what that consent comprises? We have this in many Bills—I believe they are all sent to the palace, and the Duchy of Cornwall sometimes, for approval or comment. There is no transparency, so we do not actually know why the consent is needed here and whether it is for their private or their public interest. Is it to help them with electricity bills this winter in their many palaces, which might be private or public or both? Or is it because the Crown Estate—since a proportion of the income from it goes to the sovereign, and it is doing very well with offshore wind—is going to get an extra cut? Some transparency on this at the start of a new reign would be very welcome and interesting, so perhaps the Leader of the House can give me a little more explanation.

My Lords, it is a long custom in this House that we are extremely restrained in what we discuss which touches on the potential attitudes of the sovereign and the Royal Family. However, this is marginally tangential, and since the noble Lord was kind enough to give notice that he was going to rise at this point—and if I may humbly say so, it is a good courtesy of your Lordships’ House to give notice, and a good way of getting a response—I will on this occasion give an answer, because I hope it gives an example of the carefulness with which these matters are considered.

I can explain that consent was requested in relation to Clauses 16 and 19. Counsel had advised that Clause 16 may impact the interests of the Crown, as it confers a power on the Secretary of State to require certain electricity generators to make payment to a payment administrator, by reference to the amount of electricity they generate in a particular period. Implementation of these powers could, in principle, capture a generating station that the King or Duchy might own or have an interest in, and thereby could require payments by the King in relation to the generation of electricity at that generating station in a period.

Counsel also advised that Clause 19 is capable of impacting the interests of the Crown. The Crown Estate, Duchy or the King, through his personal property, may be required by regulations under Clause 19 to pass on energy price support that they receive—for example, in respect of gas or electricity supplied to premises of which they are landlords—to end-users, including tenants to whom they supply heating, cooling or hot water produced using energy in respect of which price support has been received. Those tenants might acquire a cause of action against the Crown in the event that such support is not passed on. Regulations under Clause 19 may also impose on the Crown requirements relating to the provision of information.

I hope that we do not have to go through this process on each occasion and that your Lordships will understand that this is a consent which the Crown makes to put its interests at the disposal of your Lordships. I also hope that that detailed response, which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked for, will assure your Lordships as we go forward that extremely careful consideration is given to these matters.


Moved by

My Lords, it is my great pleasure to thank all those who have supported the progress of the Bill so far. Let me first thank the Opposition—the noble Lords, Lord Lennie and Lord McNicol, and all their colleagues—for their co-operation in progressing this expedited Bill. I am extremely conscious of the fact—and the House should be aware—that we could not be doing this legislation as fast as we are without the consent of opposition parties. I am grateful to them for that. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his invaluable work and contributions, and thank all other Members who contributed to our debates, helping ensure that the Bill is of most benefit to our nation.

I thank the Welsh and Scottish Governments for their support for the Bill. I very much welcome the Senedd’s and Scottish Parliament’s decision to provide legislative consent for the elements of the Bill that impact on devolved competence. We got very late notice of the Scottish Parliament granting it, so I am grateful for that.

I thank the Northern Ireland Executive’s Department for the Economy and Department of Finance for their constructive engagement during the drafting of the Bill. In the absence of an Executive, a legislative consent Motion cannot be secured from the Northern Ireland Assembly. Given the urgent need for this Bill to give financial support to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland, the UK Government are legislating on behalf of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Ministers in Northern Ireland have been made aware of this, and my department will continue to engage with the Northern Ireland Executive on devolved matters as the Bill is implemented.

Let me also thank the House of Lords Public Bill Office, the House clerks, and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for their extremely hard work in drafting the Bill at pace and ensuring that it could be expedited through this House. As always, Ayeesha Bhutta, the principal private secretary to the Leader and Chief Whip, has been a total star in keeping us all right on the procedure of the Bill.

My thanks go to all the policy, analytical and legal officials in BEIS for their expert advice, resilience and, above all, sheer hard work. Many of them worked round the clock and at weekends to deliver this package of support for our nation. They are a credit to the Civil Service, and I thank them for their work.

I would like to thank my private secretary, Matthew Sachak, and the senior responsible officer for the Bill, Jeremy Allen. I must also thank the Bill team: Jessica Lee, Safia Miyanji, Kirsten Horton, Nicholas Vail, Salisa Kaur, Abi Gambel, Luke Rawcliffe, James Banfield, Matthew Pugh, Laura Jackson, Phaedra Hartley and Nicholas Benjamin. I cannot forget the BEIS lawyers, who do their level best to keep me apprised of legal matters —and sometimes even succeed: Wei Lynn, Alex Bentley, Charles Grant, Stephanie Bisset, Matthew Orme, Genna King, Alex Ivett, Susie Squire, Giovanna Amodeo and Sylvia Campigotto.

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has affected families and businesses up and down this country. This is the moment to be bold. The Government have acted immediately and dealt with the crisis hands on, ensuring people can keep their homes warm and businesses are kept open during the winter months.

The Bill includes powers to stop volatile and high gas prices dictating the cost of electricity produced by much cheaper renewables, which will be to the benefit of bill payers. The Bill puts energy bills support for people, businesses, charities and the public sector across the nation on a secure legislative footing. It is a vital step in delivering an unprecedented package of assistance for the whole of the UK. I thank noble Lords for their patience and commend this Bill to the House.

My Lords, briefly, I thank the Minister and his Whip, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, for their co-operation and hard work during the speedy passage of the Bill. I also thank both the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the Liberal Democrat Benches for his knowledge of these matters, and especially my noble friend Lord McNicol, who, while not in his place today, came in at the last minute to support me in the absence of my noble friend Lady Blake. Finally, I thank Milton Brown from the legislative team in the Labour office for keeping us up to date and on message throughout the process. The Bill will now be referred to the other place, and we wish it well in its speedy implementation.

My Lords, we on these Benches very much support the Bill, although it might have a few Henry VIII powers and go a little further than it needs to. However, it is clearly absolutely essential for households getting through the winter to come. I very much thank the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, for their work from the Government Benches, and all his other officials who have been involved. On our side, I also thank Sarah Pughe from our Whips’ Office. I also thank the Labour Front Bench, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, for their co-operation and for the work we have done together. I make one least plea to the Minister, with which I am sure he will agree: it is very important that we manage to deliver the benefits that the Bill gives to those who are off-grid. I know that he and his officials will work hard to ensure that this is the case, although I understand that it will be difficult.

My Lords, while I have no wish to dissent from this unanimity, I think that we are owed an indication from the Minister as to where this fits in with the overall energy policy. We had an Energy Bill before us which is now in limbo and which in part overlaps with the Bill. From the new Secretary of State for BEIS—and indeed from the Minister himself, with the assumption, we hope, that he is still here—we need an early statement on the totality of energy policy, on which this is dealing only with the immediate emergency—profound though it is—facing so many families and businesses. We need to know the totality of the position from the new Administration, so can we have some indication from the Minister as to when we are likely to see that?

I am sure that the new BEIS Secretary of State, when he or she is appointed, will wish to convey at the earliest possible opportunity the future of the Energy Bill to the noble Lord.

Bill passed.

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

Committee (1st Day)

Relevant documents: 12th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 6th Report from the Constitution Committee


Moved by

Moved by

At end insert “but that this House regrets the absence of (1) a response by His Majesty’s Government to the 7th Report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, (2) the publication of an impact assessment outlining the likely consequences of the use of powers in this Bill on the Northern Ireland business community, (3) the publication of draft regulations which may be laid using the powers in this Bill, and (4) any formal report to Parliament on the status of negotiations with the European Union; and calls on His Majesty’s Government to provide this information before the House considers the Bill at Report Stage.”

My Lords, I begin by taking this opportunity to extend the condolences of these Benches—and I am sure of other noble Lords across the House—to the family of Baroness May Blood, who passed away late last week. May was the first woman from Northern Ireland to be elevated to this House, reflecting her long record of defending and advancing the rights of women, children and working people. I hope that her family will find some small comfort in the warm tributes from all communities and political parties in Northern Ireland, which must be a reflection of the peace process she did so much to advance.

In moving my amendment to the Motion, I express thanks to colleagues across your Lordships’ House for the many hours of discussions that have taken place since Second Reading. The Second Reading debate highlighted near-unanimous opinion across the House that the Bill is neither wise in a political or diplomatic sense, nor constitutionally acceptable. I know that various colleagues have said at multiple points that they feel very strongly that the Bill should not have a Committee stage, and I sympathise greatly with those who hold that view. In an ideal world, the Government would have recognised this too by accepting the strength of feeling against the Bill and paused it. Perhaps that will still happen.

In the face of seemingly never-ending political turmoil in Westminster, that step would have sent a helpful signal to businesses and communities in Northern Ireland, and to our negotiating partners in the EU. It would have provided reassurance that despite the recent ministerial merry-go-rounds—we are having another one today—there is a genuine commitment to a negotiated outcome. In failing to take that step, Liz Truss demonstrated poor political judgment. Perhaps it says a lot about her that the Bill remained a priority even as she prepared to depart Downing Street for the last time. According to comments we have seen on Twitter and that were made over the weekend, the new Prime Minister is apparently personally committed to the continuation of the Bill. Lots of things get said during internal election campaigns, promises are made and positions get exaggerated, but surely any incoming Prime Minister would want to demonstrate an ability to resolve problems rather than prolong them.

We are of course mindful that the role of your Lordships’ House is to scrutinise the legislation put before us. That is the case no matter how offensive we may find the legislation, and the Bill does push the boundaries. As we move into Committee this afternoon, this House will consider the Bill in the usual way, clause by clause and line by line, and I believe this will show, yet again, just how reckless and unworkable this piece of legislation really is. I hope it will give the new Prime Minister all the evidence he needs that the Bill is not going to get through this House without serious difficulty.

The Government often cite their manifesto commitments when attempting to get Bills through Parliament, but in this case the legislation directly contradicts the 2019 manifesto: I refer noble Lords to page 7 if they want to look for themselves. Boris Johnson said he had solved the Northern Ireland Brexit questions, that he had got Brexit done, that the public had endorsed the deal, including the protocol, and that Parliament had duly implemented it. To now try to drive a coach and horses through the lot of it, in a way that asks this House to be satisfied that we can act outside of legal processes, makes it so much harder to achieve the negotiated outcome that everybody says they want.

The idea that the Bill is delivering on a commitment from the 2019 manifesto is just absurd, and I hope that the Minister will not attempt to rely on that argument this afternoon. The Bill runs counter to the objective of achieving a good negotiated outcome. If passed, it will not resolve the problem, but will simply lead to a political stand-off, a further deterioration in trade and more uncertainty for business. Only a negotiated agreement that all sides accept can provide a durable solution.

As I and many others have said for months, a deal is achievable, but where is the focus from Ministers? Where is the leadership and grip that will be needed to sort this out? It requires hard work, cool heads, and movement from both sides. Ministers should not be here attempting to shepherd this dreadful Bill through Parliament; they should get their shoulders to the wheel, determined to find solutions. That is the only way this ends. We very much hope that the Sunak Administration will reach a deal in good faith, and that the UK and the EU can show sufficient flexibility, where that is needed, to get an agreement over the line. I think everybody in this House, however they view the Bill, will agree with that. However, if the new Prime Minister does not take those steps, or if he insists that the Bill needs to remain in play, we will have to seriously consider whether it is appropriate to proceed to Report. He is being irresponsible if he thinks he can use the fragile political situation in Northern Ireland for internal Tory political management.

I do not intend to push my amendment to a vote this afternoon, despite much encouragement from all sides of the House to do so, but I hope the Government take note of the various conditions outlined in it. I also acknowledge the amendment to my amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, which is a very sensible and helpful addition. It shows the support across the House and the depth of concern about the way the Government are approaching these issues.

First, we are all familiar with the unprecedented ministerial powers proposed in the legislation. We have all read the scathing report of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. That report was published in early July, so we hope to see the committee’s various recommendations taken seriously by the Government.

Secondly, despite the widespread disruption that unilaterally tearing up the protocol would entail for the Northern Ireland business community, the Government have not published an impact assessment, so we ask for one in our amendment. These documents ought to be a standard feature of the legislative process, enabling all sides to understand the likely real-world impact of proposals put forward by Ministers. There is clear guidance around this, as I know the Minister is aware, and the Government must not disregard it, particularly as such an assessment would demonstrate material harm to Northern Ireland’s economy. I hope that we will see that document soon and that it will be both detailed and credible.

Thirdly, both your Lordships’ House and affected businesses deserve to see indicative regulations. It is bad enough that the Government propose tearing up the protocol unilaterally but, beyond a few vague pledges, nobody knows what future arrangements might look like or if they are feasible. The publication of indicative regulations, which occurred during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, would give Parliament and business greater clarity and could help ease concerns about the scope of the Bill’s powers, which we would welcome.

Finally, Parliament should be provided with a formal update on negotiations with the EU. We warmly welcome the resumption of talks and have been closely following ministerial briefings to the media. However, that is not an appropriate substitute for the detail and accountability offered by Statements to Parliament. I hope the Government can commit today to an Oral Statement from the Foreign Secretary in another place. There is no reason why that could not happen tomorrow. Beyond that, Ministers should provide regular updates to Parliament, whether on their meetings with EU counterparts or progress made by officials in their technical discussions.

We are not being unreasonable. The Government should already have met at least two of the four things we ask for in our amendment. Taken together, they represent the bare minimum your Lordships’ House should expect before proceeding to the amending stage of any major piece of legislation such as this. I hope the Minister will commit to meeting these asks in full a reasonable time ahead of Report. Colleagues will need sufficient time to consider the various documents; it will not be acceptable for them to arrive days or hours ahead of Report, as we have seen on other occasions.

We are trying to be helpful and reasonable, but the Government are making it very difficult for us. We are under pressure from all sides of the House to be unreasonable and attempt to block this legislation. We are resisting doing so today, but I cannot emphasise enough to Ministers just how seriously we take this. We see it as a breach of international law that should not be before this House. That is all I will say for now, but I hope the Minister can engage with this seriously and constructively, because that is the intent of the amendment to the Motion. I beg to move.

Amendment to the Amendment to the Motion

Moved by

Leave out from “information” and insert “and to lay before Parliament (a) a comprehensive United Kingdom economic and sectoral impact assessment of the legislation, and (b) a report on their consultations with representatives of all the main Northern Ireland political parties and business sectors, before the House considers the Bill at Report Stage.”

My Lords, I would like to add my support to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and to her amendment; my amendment simply adds extra requests for what I believe is vital information to be provided to Parliament before Report stage. I would also like to express my gratitude to colleagues across the House for their engagement with discussions on this Bill, and indeed I would like to thank my noble friend on the Front Bench, who has also been generous with his time in discussing these issues.

The problems with this Bill are far deeper, more fundamental, and indeed more important, than Brexit. This is about right and wrong, about protecting parliamentary democracy and about the values that our country believes in and holds dear—the importance of keeping our word, trustworthiness, honesty, integrity. This Bill drives a coach and horses through these things: it seeks to tear up an international agreement signed recently, supposedly in good faith.

Besides the issues of international law that other noble Lords are much better qualified than me to comment upon, there are also serious constitutional consequences of allowing Ministers untrammelled powers to bypass Parliament, changing laws at will. No parliamentary democracy should be asked to accept this. If noble Lords do not make a stand now, I believe we are failing in our duties. Slowly, slowly, the usual freedoms and democratic norms we have lived by are being chipped away; Parliament must not become inured to these power grabs. It is time to make a stand before it is too late, for continuing down this path is heading us toward an elected dictatorship, with a supine Parliament that can be bypassed at Ministers’ whim.

Even aside from the legal and constitutional dangers, we have not been given, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, explained, the necessary information on which to base proper assessment of how passing this legislation would impact the UK economy, important sectors of Northern Ireland and British business. Nor are we told the results of consultations that have taken place with all the main political parties and business sectors in Northern Ireland. My amendment calls for these to be provided as well.

The history of Ireland is full of turbulence created by one group overriding the wishes of others rather than working together to seek peace and a harmonious relationship. The Good Friday agreement achieved peace because we were part of the EU, but a hard Brexit has upended this. The idea that Britain can unilaterally force its own interests on the island of Ireland and still retain peaceful, fruitful trading and other relations is a fantasy. The Bill demands that the UK be the final arbiter of what constitutes a risk to the EU’s single market, or that the ECJ cannot ultimately arbitrate matters of dispute. This cakeism is unsustainable.

This Bill also risks upsetting our trading relations with the EU, and indeed the US, at a time when we need them to boost growth. The new Prime Minister has a chance to reconsider this Bill and set it aside in the interests of growth, I hope that he will decide at the very least to put it on hold, so that proper negotiations can take place and trust can be restored. The EU has offered concessions, and I believe we have a chance to find resolutions.

To restore our international standing, we must end this unilateralist, bullying approach and start recognising reality: that Northern Ireland is attached to the EU; it is not physically attached to Britain; passage of this Bill will force a border on the island of Ireland, which runs directly counter to the Good Friday agreement. My amendment calls for the Government to present to Parliament their economic impact assessment on all main sectors in the UK, including in Northern Ireland, and to include how they will mitigate, for example, the damage to the dairy, agri-food, and potentially electricity sectors, and to tell us before Report stage what they believe are the views of all main political parties and business sectors in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

My Lords, it may assist the House to know that we from these Benches can confirm our support for the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the amendment we have just heard.

If we are to scrutinise legislation properly in this House—which is our constitutional duty—there is also a duty on us to highlight areas where we are prevented from doing so because the Government have not presented sufficient information. There is clear precedent for this. We did so on the Professional Qualifications Bill, when the mood of the House was reflected to the Minister in very clear terms that accompanying information was devoid of sufficient information and that we would not progress discussion of it unless further information was provided. To his credit, the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, provided that. We stated in clear terms when the Government presented more than 350 government amendments to the Subsidy Control Bill shortly after they introduced it that they needed to bring further information. To his credit, the noble Lord, Lord True—now the Leader of the House—indicated that the Government would change their position and allow for more debate.

The Government have not sufficiently responded to the desires expressed both at Second Reading and by the committees of this House for further information. They have not responded properly to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report, which was excoriating in its condemnation of the use of regulation-making powers. As we have heard, the Government have failed to bring forward an impact assessment to show their own estimate of what impact policy options taken to present the Bill will have. The House will recall that I quoted from the original impact assessment of the protocol legislation, so it is fair to ask for the successor legislation, which will have equally profound implications, also to have impact assessment information. The Bill itself is extremely controversial, and it will have an impact on the business community, society, trade and the wider economy. Therefore, an impact assessment is vital.

This is not just a debating point. The Cabinet Office in its 2022 Guide to Making Legislation is very clear on what the requirements are on departments when they bring forward legislation. Section 13, on impact assessments, says:

“The Government has international obligations in free trade agreements to conduct impact assessments on regulation that has an impact on trade.”

Clearly, this Bill has such an impact. It goes on:

“A development, options or consultation stage impact assessment must be submitted alongside any bids for legislation, and a final proposal stage impact assessment must accompany requests for collective agreement to the policy in a Bill.”

The guide says clearly:

“The final impact assessment must be made available alongside bills published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny or introduced to Parliament.”

When the Advocate-General for Scotland replied to me at Second Reading, he said that the Bill did not have an impact assessment but that

“full details of the new regime will be set out in regulations”. —[Official Report, 11/10/22; col. 767.]

That is just not good enough. We need to scrutinise these now.

On delegated powers, I remind the House that the Constitution Committee report concluded in paragraph 29:

“In examining clause 9, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee concluded: ‘[l]egislation has preceded policy development rather than vice versa’. We agree and recommend that clause 9 be removed from the Bill.”

We will discuss this later, but the essential point is that legislation should follow policy development, not vice versa. The Advocate-General said in response to the Second Reading debate:

“Since the Bill was introduced, we have consulted extensively with businesses and other key shareholders on the underlying details of the regime … There have been over 100 bespoke sessions with over 250 businesses, business representative organisations and regulators.”—[Official Report, 11/10/22; cols. 767-8.]

But on what? We do not have proposals in front of us. The Government’s own code of conduct for consultations states that they should be based on public questions. I have not seen a consultation document. I have not been able to find any draft regulations on which the Government have consulted. I have not been able to see any details of how the new regime might operate in practice, and we have not been presented with an assessment of what the responses are in order to shape views of costs. There is no footnote to the Cabinet Office document from this year that says, “None of this applies when a Minister so decides for political purposes”.

The Minister seemed confident that draft regulations will solve the problem, although he and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, did not spell out in detail what they will be; we will hear that later in Committee. I remind the House that we have been furnished with draft orders before, when we asserted our desire to receive them. However, at Second Reading, the Advocate-General contradicted himself. In defence of the Government’s legal position, he said that

“the peril that has emerged was not inherent in the protocol’s provision”,

but, later, he said that

“the problem lies in the protocol and not in its application”.—[Official Report, 11/10/22; cols. 764-68.]

I suspect that a witness contradicting himself in court might have been pounced on by a certain advocate, but we in this House need to see the draft regulations if they are the fix for the root causes, as the Minister said.

Finally, we need formal reporting. We need detail on where the negotiations stand and what the current areas of consideration are. In Committee in the Commons, the then Paymaster-General said:

“I am not sure how much more could be done in terms of negotiation … Good faith negotiations to resolve the issues with the protocol have already been exhausted.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/22; cols. 383-84.]

I think the whole House was encouraged by the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, at the start of Second Reading, when he said that the talks have resumed and are of a positive nature. However, we need full updates with technical papers so that we can properly scrutinise this legislation and so carry out our constitutional duty.

My Lords, I apologise to the House for being unable to speak at Second Reading. I put my name down but realised that I could not be present at the end of the debate. If noble Lords will accept my apology, I assure them that I will not now make a Second Reading speech; I will simply summarise what I believe to be the case: that, as proposed legislation, this is a lamentable Bill.

If we want a careful, detailed analysis of the issues in and chronology of this case—I recommend that we do, if I may say so—the report from the House’s Library is absolutely magnificent. I personally thank those who prepared it; I recommend it to your Lordships. Everybody wants to have a say, so I am not going to add to the long list of things that are required, but can I suggest three more?

First, the Constitution Committee has just reported. The power of its report is not merely in that it repeats the concerns expressed by the delegated legislation committee on the Henry VIII aspects of the Bill; it directly addresses the Government’s contention that there is no problem with the lawfulness of the Bill. The Government have so far treated the report from the delegated legislation committee with scant respect. We have not had an answer to it. We should not proceed with this Bill until such time as there is an answer to the delegated legislation committee’s report and to the Constitution Committee’s report. These are our committees. They are cross-party, and the reports speak for the committees as a whole.

My second concern is that there is litigation afoot. A judicial review of the protocol has been taken and is due to be heard in the Supreme Court on 30 November. My question is this: has any attempt been made to expedite the hearings so that they can come on more quickly and we can have the Supreme Court’s answers to the issues raised instead of saying, “Well, we’re going to have to wait for that decision so we must act quickly because we’re having to wait too long”?

Thirdly, a number of infringement processes have been taken against us by the EU. It would helpful if we could see our responses to those. We need to know where we stand in the formal proceedings taken by the EU that we are in contravention of our treaty obligations. They are not a matter of privacy. I understand that negotiations must be conducted privately and there is confidentiality attached to them, but surely not for our Government’s response to the EU’s requests for infringement processes to be looked at.

In the end, I am very glad that this issue will not be taken to a Division today. That is sensible, particularly because all sides of the House need to understand what the problems are with the Bill and why it is, in the word which I used at the time of Second Reading, which I did not take part in, a lamentable Bill.

My Lords, the effect of these amendments, whether one agrees with their precise wording, is to give the new Administration time to pause, to reflect, and to consider the best way of dealing with the issues that arise from the protocol. The new Administration need that time. There is no doubt that the way that the protocol is being implemented causes considerable practical difficulties for Northern Ireland, particularly for trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. These difficulties, which would be exacerbated if the protocol were to be implemented in full, are real. A solution to them must be found.

There is agreement across the House that the best solution could be an agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. We are told that discussions are taking place. I hope that the new Administration will give fresh impetus to those discussions, and that it will not take what might be described as a theological approach to those negotiations. It appears to be the position of His Majesty’s Government that changes to the text of the protocol are essential. However, it may be that a solution to the practical problems which exist can be provided by other means. The European Union has a long history of creative interpretation of the texts of agreements, which has often stood it in good stead in arriving at practical solutions in one field or another—and it should be encouraged to do so here.

We all hope that those negotiations succeed, but we must face up to the possibility that they may not succeed. If that turns out to be the case, I hope that the Government will look again at the possibility of dealing with the practical difficulties by invoking Article 16 of the protocol rather than through this Bill.

I think that my noble friends on the Front Bench will recognise on reflection that the explanations that they gave at Second Reading for not proceeding by Article 16 were—how can I put it?—rather less than convincing. Presumably it was precisely to deal with difficulties of this kind that Article 16 was inserted into the protocol. It is a perfectly legal route if the preconditions in the article can be satisfied. If they cannot be, there is certainly no justification for this Bill.

I do not need, or propose, to repeat the arguments against the application of the doctrine of necessity in these circumstances, which I and others advanced at Second Reading. I urge the Government to think again. I hope these amendments will prove to be unnecessary.

My Lords, I hope that I will not embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Howard, by saying that I agree with virtually everything that he said.

First, however, I pay a brief tribute to May Blood, a stalwart warrior for peace who crunched fearlessly through all the political posturing, was dynamic, warm, passionate, blunt at times, and incredibly courageous on the front line of peace. I also apologise that, when the date was switched, I was unable to be present for Second Reading as I had intended. I speak in support of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Chapman of Darlington, which I trust that she will re-table before Report and call a vote on if necessary.

I also commend the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for her amendment and pay tribute to her. She has been absolutely consistent in speaking up fearlessly and speaking the truth about the impact on Northern Ireland. I do so as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who between 2005 and 2007 under Tony Blair negotiated a settlement that brought those bitter old-blood enemies Ian Paisley Sr and Martin McGuinness to share power together. This led to relatively stable self-government for 10 years before Stormont self-suspended and has been more or less so ever since.

I am desperately worried that the Government’s decisions over Northern Ireland following Brexit are reversing the progress made since the 1998 Good Friday agreement and this Bill is continuing that sad and disturbing pattern. Have all the main Northern Irish political parties and businesses been properly consulted and their views taken into account by the Government over this Bill? No. The policy is being driven by one party, and one party alone: the DUP. I do not attack it for that. It is entitled to press its view; I have many friends in the DUP and they speak up fearlessly for their cause and are entitled to do so. This is not an attack on them; it is a criticism of the Government because they are not right to give the DUP an effective veto among all the parties. Without majority support in Northern Ireland, this Bill risks being yet another thing this UK Government do to Northern Ireland, rather than with Northern Ireland.

As of June this year, 55% of Northern Irish people in an opinion poll supported the protocol as a means of managing the impact of Brexit. The same poll found that 57% of respondents did not think the UK Government would be justified in taking unilateral action on the protocol, as this Bill does. The last elections for the Northern Irish Assembly—and it looks like we will have a fresh set of elections sooner rather than later—also saw a majority of voters opt for parties which support the protocol: 53.5% of all first preference votes went to Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Alliance and the Green Party.

But, of course, everybody—and this is the important point—in all those parties agrees that the protocol needs to be altered, or rather that its implementation needs to be altered, to borrow the word from the noble Lord, Lord Howard, “creatively”. I think there is common agreement on that, and that is where the Government should be focusing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, pointed out at Second Reading, the Bill

“risks alienating the majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly who want to see a negotiated settlement.”—[Official Report, 11/10/22; col. 693.]

This is the thrust of the amendment from my noble fried Lady Chapman and, indeed, the amendment to that from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.

Pushing ahead with the legislation could exacerbate social tensions in Northern Ireland and fuel further, damaging instability in that part of the UK. With negotiations under way with the EU and increased opportunities for a negotiated outcome, because I believe all the mood music suggests that that is the case, surely your Lordships’ House would be right to delay the passage of a Bill which breaks international law, at least before Report stage.

The UK Government have themselves said that if a negotiated solution is reached, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will no longer be necessary, and I commend Ministers for that assurance. Given that the negotiations are under way, surely delaying the passage of the Bill while communities in Northern Ireland are properly consulted and an economic impact assessment is carried out is the most responsible course of action, rather than bulldozing ahead with the Bill.

The UK Government’s legal justification for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill under the doctrine of necessity has been widely rejected and the view of Treasury counsel on this specific matter has not been published. The view given so far was based on counsel being asked to assume that the Bill is legal, rather than advising on whether that is indeed the case. The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is already damaging the UK’s reputation, our diplomatic relationships and our economy at a time when unity in the face of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is required. Delaying the passage of the Bill while the UK and EU negotiate allows more time to avoid causing further damage.

Again at the risk of embarrassing him, I quote the noble Lord, Lord Howard, who pointed out at Second Reading that government Ministers have condemned President Putin for his breaches of international law. He said:

“The thing about the law, whether it is domestic or international, is that you cannot pick and choose. You cannot pray it in aid in one context and have no regard for it in another”.—[Official Report, 11/10/22; col. 697.]

That is an irrefutable argument from a noble Lord who is both a senior Conservative and a passionate Brexiteer—unlike me in either respect.

President Biden has refused to negotiate a US-UK trade deal while this protocol Bill is being pursued. Delaying its passage will enable time for the Government to consider concessions over the oppressively ubiquitous powers to Ministers that are more reflective, in my view, of an elective dictatorship than a proper parliamentary democracy.

The Bill contains 19 Henry VIII clauses, which would grant the UK Government unprecedented powers to breach international law and bypass Parliament. I mention in passing that the EU has signalled that, if this Bill is enacted, it will suspend the trade and co-operation agreement, leading to huge uncertainty for UK and Northern Ireland businesses at a time when the financial markets have lost confidence in the UK’s economic management. Only a few days ago, a former Governor of the Bank of England, the noble Lord, Lord King of Lothbury, gave a dire forecast of our economic prospects.

Before it passes, surely your Lordships’ House is entitled to have a full economic impact assessment of the Bill, both on the UK economy, and whether it could worsen the UK’s economic outlook at the height of the cost of living crisis, and on Northern Ireland’s economy. The Government have not done that. But the most important reason to support this amendment is to give time and space for proper negotiations.

It is important to put on record that Brexit, in the form of the protocol, has created a crisis of identity for unionists and loyalists. That has to be acknowledged. Likewise, prior to the Good Friday agreement, there was a crisis of identity for nationalists and republicans. If something like the protocol had not been agreed, that crisis for nationalists and republicans would have been reignited, because the external frontier of the European Union had to be somewhere. The Government chose the Irish Sea, rather than the Irish border across the island, triggering deep resentment and insecurity among both loyalists and the majority of unionists. I quite understand that, but it need not be the case.

Is anyone seriously arguing that finding acceptable solutions to the problems triggered by the protocol is harder than finding the solutions that were found through the 1998 Good Friday agreement and the 2006 St Andrews agreement? Most thought neither of those agreements would ever happen, yet they did. This is easy compared to those two agreements, to be frank. The problem is eminently soluble by serious negotiation, give and take, and understanding of the different interests at stake. The EU should understand the interests of unionists, who feel threatened, and the British Government should understand and take into account the views of the majority of parties.

There are important issues to address. The democratic deficit, in which laws are passed in Brussels that affect Northern Ireland, can be addressed in representation through the joint committee and directly in Brussels on behalf of Northern Ireland government Ministers and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That would be easy to achieve if the UK Government were willing to propose and support it, and press the EU to grant it. I suspect it would agree to this.

If it is not elevated into some fundamentalist article of faith and dogma, a solution is possible around the European Court of Justice. The Liberal Democrat Peer, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has suggested a solution and many fellow Members of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee, on which I sit—this House’s own committee—have heard his arguments. There are creative solutions such as that, without the ECJ being entirely removed from the situation. If it is, and this becomes an article of dogmatic faith for the Government, Northern Ireland would be ripped out of the single market and the customs union, because the ECJ polices the single market. That is one of its functions. It is hardly ever active on it, by the way; it is a backstop. Solutions could easily be found to this.

There have been proposals from the UK Government for red and green lanes, and the EU has indicated that it can do business on that. A creative solution is possible on the medicines issue, which has proven difficult, and for phytosanitary issues. There is already a border of sorts, and has been for a very long time, for plants and livestock moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

This would not be some big dogmatic issue if creative solutions were sought and negotiations prioritised. There is a question of alignment: how do you align the fact that Northern Ireland is in the UK, the single market and the customs union? These things can be resolved if no dogmatism is applied.

I end by saying that negotiations require trust to be built and time; they require ministerial grip to find political solutions, as has been done time and again in Northern Ireland and other arenas. I have negotiated on behalf of the British Government in a number of different areas—the United Nations, the EU and Northern Ireland. We need less dogma and more flexibility. This Bill is getting in the way of that.

My Lords, I express my support for the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the amendment advanced by my noble friend Lady Altmann. I would very happily have supported either, were this matter to be put to the vote.

I am against the Bill. I expressed my reasons at Second Reading and will not repeat them today because I appreciate that we are concerned here with a very narrow issue: whether this matter should go into Committee. In expressing my opposition to it going into Committee, I want to focus on one issue only, namely our relations with the European Union.

We have a new Prime Minister. I wish him well. Mr Sunak supported Brexit, a policy that I deeply regret. However, I am sure that he will be the first to recognise the need to improve our relations with the European Union. We must do so: they are our nearest, biggest and most important trading partner, very important allies and neighbours. We need to give this Government, led by Mr Sunak, the opportunity to reset their policy towards the European Union. I believe that the Bill, if enacted, will aggravate our relations with the European Union. It is possible that it will trigger a trade war. Both of these things would be highly undesirable. What this Government need is time: time to negotiate sensibly with the European Union. If we agree to defer the Bill and not let it go into Committee at this stage, we will be giving the Government and the European Union time to come to a sensible agreement. I commend that to this House.

My Lords, I too will be brief. I have heard nothing in the preceding speeches with which I disagree, but I have one point that I would like to add.

I agree with the amendment put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and with the amendment suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. However, even in the unlikely event that the Government were to provide all six dossiers that have been requested, and in the even more unlikely event that these proved reassuring, I would still want to vote against this Bill. It is a matter of principle and honour.

You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and this is a pig of a Bill. The powers it confers on government using these powers is simply not compatible with how this country views its commitments. We do not tear up treaties. That is the point of principle; that is the matter of honour. A deal is a deal is a deal: pacta sunt servanda. The noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General told us at Second Reading, in a rather labyrinthine reply:

“The assertion that the Government’s position breaches international law is too bald and lacking in nuance.”

When questioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, he said that

“it would be wrong … to engage in a deeper debate.”—[Official Report, 11/10/22; cols. 765-66.]

He did not say why it would be wrong or when the moment would be, but I imagine he was waiting for the Constitution Committee’s report. Now that we have it, we see that the Constitution Committee is clear that even enacting this Bill would

“clearly breach the UK’s international obligations”.

There is not a lot of nuance there.

I am no lawyer and I do not want to get into enactment, but as a practitioner I can say that what seems plain as a pikestaff to a non-lawyer like me is that to exercise the powers the Bill confers would drive a coach and horses through a treaty—and that is not what we do. It would not just be self-defeating; it would be dishonourable. We, Parliament, must not empower our Government to act dishonourably, to condone, to purport or to legitimise. That would itself be dishonourable, so I do not see how this Bill can go through. It is a stain on my old department.

However, it dates back to the last Prime Minister but one, and today, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said, we have a new Prime Minister and a new Administration, a chance to turn over a new leaf, to bring back honour, to make our word again our bond and to negotiate in good faith with the EU on the practical implementation of our mutual obligations under the protocol. I am sure that Mr Sunak is an honourable man—it would be tactless to say, “like Brutus”. I hope he will now choose not to pursue this Bill. It would be the right thing to do, and it would also be the sensible thing to do, because negotiations cannot succeed while this blunderbuss is on the table and because I believe that this House will, if it has to, vote the Bill down.

My Lords, I speak with a sense of something approaching elation from yesterday. We have a new Prime Minister, who appears to be a man of absolute honour—I take up the points made by the noble Lord who has just spoken. I have hope in him, and I hope he will justify that hope, which I believe is shared by many.

I do not want to make a long speech. I moved a regret amendment at Second Reading, and I was rather sorry in many ways that I was not able to put it to the vote, but clearly the House did not want that to happen at that time and it was right to listen to the House.

I would like to give one message above all others to the Prime Minister. What took Northern Ireland forward—the noble Lord, Lord Hain, with whom I worked in Northern Ireland when he was Secretary of State and I was chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, knows this better than I—was prime ministerial involvement; that was the key to success.

Both John Major and Tony Blair devoted enormous time and attention to what led to be the Good Friday agreement. I remember being present in the Royal Gallery when the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, came, together with Tony Blair, to speak to both Houses of Parliament. Tony Blair was particularly careful to say that this was not just his achievement, and that without the building blocks laid by John Major this could not have happened. There has to be a cross-party accord; there has to be prime ministerial involvement.

Our present Prime Minister has inherited a herculean task. If he is going to devote time to the economy, he clearly cannot be devoting an equal amount of time to Northern Ireland at the moment. What he can do, however, is to encourage those who are negotiating on this country’s behalf to negotiate. He can remove what I called in the Second Reading debate the sword of Damocles, which is this Bill. It is a bad Bill; it is a Bill that gives powers that no democratic Minister should ever seek in a plethora of Henry VIII clauses. Therefore, what I beg Mr Sunak to do is to just go carefully and then, as soon as it is possible, to go to Northern Ireland with the Secretary of State. I do not know who that will be, because the Prime Minister is reconstructing his Government even as we sit in this Chamber this afternoon. He has promised—and I was there when he promised it yesterday afternoon in Committee Room 14— a broadly based Administration, which we desperately need. We have had Administrations produced by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss which were by no means broadly based. They were merely gatherings of like-minded people and, in constructing their Governments, the two Prime Ministers did not really take sufficient account of variety and ability.

I hope that Mr Sunak is doing that as we speak. I hope that he will go to Northern Ireland soon; that he will talk to those who are negotiating on behalf of the Government with the European Union; that he will recognise that the very last thing that this country needs is a trade war, referred to earlier in this debate; and that he will pause. There is no great hurry and, even if the Government are in a hurry, your Lordships’ House is not in a hurry. This could take hours and hours and days and days, but at the end of the day this Bill is unimprovable, because it trashes our international reputation and the things that we are most proud of.

My noble friend Lord Howard’s reference to Putin, in his brilliant speech on Second Reading, was entirely apposite. We have to set an example; we have to show that we are indeed the guardians of one of the best democracies in the world. We have got to show that we are not prepared to sanction a Bill that rides roughshod over our national reputation. Like my noble friend Lord Hailsham, I would support either of these amendments if they were put to the vote tonight. But I understand why those who have proposed them in very persuasive terms perhaps do not want to do that. However, there must be a day of reckoning in your Lordships’ House because this Bill is bad for our country and bad for our future, and it must not go onto the statute books.

My Lords, I speak as one who lives in Northern Ireland and experiences on a regular basis the impact of the bureaucracy associated with the operation of the protocol. I spoke at Second Reading of my concerns about the Bill and I want to support both amendments placed before your Lordships today, because we do not have the information that would underpin proper consideration of the necessity for the Bill. No doubt a solution has to be found to the various problems arising in the operation of the protocol but, as witnesses to the Northern Ireland protocol sub-committee of the European Affairs Committee told us—we heard evidence last Friday in the Northern Ireland Assembly—this Bill is like placing a gun on the table at the negotiations.

I hope that, even at this late stage, the Prime Minister and the usual channels will consider the matter further and withdraw the Bill—in light of your Lordships’ interventions today, of the reports of the sub-committee on the protocol, those of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and, most of all, in light of the report of the Constitution Committee, which says:

“Legislation which puts the UK in breach of international law undermines the rule of law and trust in the UK in fulfilling future treaty commitments. The Government’s reliance on the doctrine of necessity does not justify introducing this Bill. This raises the question of whether ministers might be thought to have contravened their obligation under the Ministerial Code to comply with the law, including international law.”

This is the most serious of observations by the Constitution Committee. I will vote against the Bill when we get an opportunity to do so but, at present, I support the amendments.

My Lords, I rise to support both these amendments and to pay tribute to our colleague Baroness May Blood, who sadly passed away last week. May was a fearless campaigner in Belfast for the rights of the underdog, for integrated education—believing that children should be educated together rather than apart—and, above all, for the rights of women in work and in factories.

I support the contents of these amendments. So far, we have not received from the Government any reports or any assessment from their perspective about the report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Also, we now have the report from the Constitution Committee, as was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan.

No assessments have been carried out in respect of the economy, business and commercial developments in Northern Ireland. Only last week, as a member of your Lordships’ committee on the protocol, I returned to Northern Ireland along with the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Loan and Lady Goudie, and our chair the noble Lord, Lord Jay. We paid a visit and took evidence—in Newry, which is along the Belfast-Dublin corridor, as well as in the Northern Ireland Assembly—from the leaders of all the political parties, and from the business, commercial and manufacturing sector. The general view of those people—apart from those in the haulage sector—was “Please remove this Bill”. This comes back to the basic point that there have to be successful negotiations, a successful negotiated outcome between the EU and the UK. That is vital. Those negotiations cannot come to a positive conclusion as long as the Bill, which is like a gun on the table, exists. I urge the Government: please remove this Bill, as it is not helpful.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I urge the Government and the new Prime Minister to come to Northern Ireland—above all, to come with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and show the joint approach that was portrayed in the Good Friday agreement. That bipartisan approach is urgently required because, unless there are negotiations to restore the political institutions, we are in a political backwater. I urge the Government please to do that.

I believe that resolutions have to be found by negotiation and not through unilateral actions such as this Bill. The protection of the GFA in all its parts is a real and reliable standard for us. We have only to look at the North/South Ministerial Council, that was also stood down by the DUP’s non-participation. It had certain solutions to deal with the protocol, because the solutions are of a technical nature that can be resolved through the protocol.

The people in Newry and Belfast told us they wanted a joint UK-EU negotiated solution. They want economic and political certainty. The uncertainty that currently exists does not lend itself to political progress, political development or good economic development. Many people we spoke to found benefits in the protocol in increased trade. They do not want a trade war, and they do not want any further political, economic or business difficulty. They want the new Prime Minister to act now and act jointly with the Taoiseach.

I support both amendments because they encapsulate the current issues for those of us who live in Northern Ireland, who want a successful implementation of the protocol with mitigations.

My Lords, I spoke at Second Reading and made clear my opposition to Bill. I will not repeat any of that. I will try to avoid repeating the many views that have already been given, all of which I agree with. They have been put very eloquently and clearly. This is a quite despicable piece of legislation that shows total contempt for the rule of law. It is plainly in breach of our international obligations. It shows total contempt for parliamentary democracy by giving powers to the Government to legislate without having to bother with parliamentary scrutiny in the correct way in future. To say that I am opposed to the Bill is an understatement. I still sit here utterly astonished that, after all my decades in politics, a British Government —worst of all, a Conservative Government—could dare to bring forward a piece of legislation of this kind, in a country that is supposed to be the mother of Parliaments and has always, in the past, been respected for our form of parliamentary democracy and what we contribute to the rule of law, democracy, liberty and liberal values in the world. I am already beginning to warm to my views on the whole thing.

I want to comment on the value of delaying proceeding with all this. We are proposing to move to negotiations with the European Union. It is our closest friend and ally in the world. Certainly, since the Americans have a certain propensity to elect a President such as President Trump in the not-too-distant future, we are particularly dependent on the closest possible relationships with our neighbours and friends, whose international interests almost entirely coincide with ours. What is the Government’s answer, not on the merits of the Bill—no doubt the Minister will do his best to make an argument and keep a straight face, which I think he managed in our last debate—but about the delay? If they are genuinely opening negotiations with the European Union in good faith, and if the policy of the new Government is a genuine desire to reach a settlement of the practical problems—the stated policy of the old Government—it could, if addressed properly, improve the practical application of the Bill.

What they are doing is poisoning the whole relationship behind the negotiations before they have even started. To a lay audience, one would only have to ask: what would our reaction be if the Europeans came to the table and put a similar blunderbuss in front of us, saying, “We are already preparing, unless you agree to any terms we put forward, to now impose tariffs on all the products that you export to your most important markets in our territory—and we are going to do so, tearing up the agreements to the contrary and normal practice, in front of your eyes”?

You cannot negotiate on that basis. It is not just illegal; it is just bad negotiating tactics. We are positively inviting them to plunge us into a trade war, which is about the worst possible disaster I can imagine this country being plunged in given its economic circumstances at the moment, as we are already in a recession. We are going to have a severe recession and combine it with very high levels of inflation, unless the new Government produce some spectacular remedies for where we have already got to.

I have no doubt that something ingenious will have been prepared for the arguments on the merits, the law and parliamentary process and that undertakings will be given. What is the argument that makes it so absolutely urgent for the Government to insist that they must be seen to be proceeding to legislate in this way, before they have even sat down to start talks with our European neighbours? If anybody can think of an argument against that, I shall be absolutely astonished.

Finally, I have enjoyed this debate. I enjoy coming to the House of Lords and wish I was able to come more frequently. It is a splendid institution and I enjoy the debates. I always have a little difficulty as I still have not managed, after two years here, to take it terribly seriously and my friends criticise me for that. If I have a decent dinner in the evening, I am afraid it sometimes takes me away from debates which I am otherwise engaged in. The reason is because increasingly, over the years, the House has been totally disregarded by Governments of all kinds. It is rarely heeded by the public because it has such limitations on its powers. I entirely understand the overriding principle that the elected House must, in the end, prevail when it has a conflict with an appointed House. We do not have the legitimacy that we would need to block the express views of a majority of the House of Commons, but we concede to that convention in an extremely cautious way.

I came here convinced that, at the very least, I would go away feeling a little more satisfied because I had been able to cast a vote to give the chance of improving the climate of the negotiations by delaying progress on the Bill for a time, to see whether the negotiations could make some progress. Like my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Hailsham, I would have supported any vote put forward to that effect. So here we are; we are retreating. I must learn to understand and acquire more experience, realising that a Labour Government want to reserve the right to do similar things if they see the precedent being set for future and successive Governments. But I regret it, because the principles behind this debate are of huge and profound importance.

The quality of our democracy is deteriorating. The power of our Parliament is being eroded and we do not know where this process is going to be stopped. I still hope that we might find some pause in that development if the new Prime Minister thinks again and agrees to at least hold up any further parliamentary progress until he sees whether sensible negotiations with the Europeans are worth while. It is as much in the interests of the Europeans as ours to have successful negotiations and we might be able to return to a civilised way forward.

I will not begin by following my noble friend with an autobiographical diversion, but I want to start with what he said at the beginning of his remarks. It is not outwith our experience in this Chamber or elsewhere to begin a speech by saying that everything one wanted to say has already been said, then to say it all over again rather less well than some others said it.

I wish to be very brief. I will not follow the arguments about the lack of wisdom of turning Henry VIII into our legislative guru in this House. I will not follow what has been said about the way in which the doctrine of necessity was tortured in a way the American constitution would surely regard as “cruel and unusual” treatment into providing whatever Ministers wanted it to say.

I want to borrow from a corruption of what Lord Alfred Douglas said and raise another issue which has not for some time dared to speak its name, and that is Brexit. We sometimes get the legislation and arguments about it the wrong way round. It was Brexit which was a threat to the Good Friday agreement and the relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The Northern Ireland protocol was meant to deal with that in an acceptable way.

The last Prime Minister—let me get this right—but two had her own proposals for dealing with the problem, which was to have the whole of the United Kingdom more or less inside the customs union and single market. That was opposed by the last Prime Minister but one and the European Research Group. They saw off Theresa May and produced the Northern Ireland protocol as their own answer to the problem. At the time, the then Prime Minister gave lots of assurances to the DUP and others that the Northern Ireland protocol would not have any effect on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I assume it was his usual habit of saying things he hoped would be true but turned out not to be, or maybe he just had not read what he had signed up to.

We are left with this debate about the Northern Ireland protocol. I think we are debating it with a Prime Minister who wants to unite the Conservative Party and the country, rescue the economy from Singapore-on-Thames-ism and do what he can to bring us all together in that very difficult fight. In doing so, I am sure he will be aware of the impact on the economy of having another row with the European Union, which remains—even though we are outside it—our largest trade market. It cannot make sense, as my noble friend said earlier, to do that. I very much agree with what both my noble friends Lord Hailsham and Lord Howard said on this. It makes sense to give Mr Sunak and the new Government a chance of looking at these issues again.

Do we need what people have called a “shotgun under the arm” or a “pistol on the table” to encourage our friends in the European Union to do whatever we want them to do? I remember Enoch Powell suggesting that Iain Macleod should have a pistol on the table when he went into discussions with Mr Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home, the then leadership of the Conservative Party. Confronted with the question that the pistol might go off, Enoch Powell said, “Yes, that’s what pistols do; they have a trigger. When firing with a shotgun or a pistol, you are not firing doves; you are firing pellets, which kill doves”. So if we are serious in our negotiations about really wanting a deal with the European Union, what is the point of still using this blunderbuss, shotgun or pistol and thinking that it is necessary to have it on the table? It surely adds to the confusion among those with whom we are negotiating and gives them perfectly valid reason to doubt whether we are really sincere in the whole enterprise. Some say that we have to do it because we cannot challenge the European Research Group’s veto over policy, or because we have said things to the DUP leaders that we cannot go back on—but what about the things we have said to the majority of the community in Northern Ireland?

It would be a great help all round if the Prime Minister would simply encourage people to go slow on all this and listen to what has been said in this debate by my noble friend Lady Altmann and others, which would be the right and sensible way forward. It cannot make sense to proceed in this way with a rotten Bill, which may be regarded, at best, as a way of getting other people to the negotiating table. It is no way for a grown-up Government to behave. We now have a Government again with adult supervision, so I hope that we can see the Government behaving sensibly on this in relation to our European friends. I am grateful to both my noble friends Lady Williams and Lady Altmann for giving us the chance to talk about this this afternoon.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, has done such fantastic work on pensions and much more that I admire. However, inevitably, in this instance, I completely disagree with her and with the whole tenor of her remarks and the remarks made by many since then. When the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, was speaking, I thought that that was the kind of detail I would like to go through when scrutinising the Bill, and the kind of discussion I assumed we would be having here. In fact, the points of view have become much broader.

I will comment on a few things and will not drag this out for too long. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said that the issues in this Bill go far deeper, and are more important and fundamental, than Brexit. I think that this is because so many in this House still do not really understand what Brexit was all about or the important and fundamental principles at its heart. They do not understand, even now, as we have heard, why millions of people voted for it. When the emphasis is constantly on trustworthiness and integrity, and restoring the trust of the UK Government internationally, maybe people ought to consider that that is always the external focus of this discussion—but there is an internal focus. Surely at this moment, of all times, when political parties on all sides have a very fragile relationship with the voting public—who, let us be honest, are pretty disillusioned—we need to consider how we can restore trustworthiness and integrity with UK voters here at home.

The key to this protocol Bill is that many people in the UK, when they voted in 2019 for that manifesto, wanted to see through the decision of 2016 to leave the European Union. The issue of Northern Ireland was one of the ways through which people were saying, “You can’t have Brexit, because look at the Northern Irish issue”. So people wanted to find a solution to it. I regret that they were overreassured by the Government when they were told, “Don’t worry, we’ve dealt with the protocol issue”—I always had concerns about the protocol issue. However, the intention was not to allow the issue of Northern Ireland to undermine the decision of 2016, because—lest we forget—that 2016 decision was nearly undermined. Some here say, “Our word is our oath” and so on, but they did not think that then; everybody else voted for something, but some here said that it did not make any difference and then ignored it.

It seems that, even now, so much of the discussion we have had is disingenuous. I ask opponents of the Government and the Government this: when people say that surely we should spend a bit more time and pause, how long do they want? Is it any wonder that nothing gets done in this country, if people think that this is a speedy process? Since 2019 we have had this protocol Bill and it is going wrong. Something needs to be done. The idea that we can pause or stop it and reconsider is not because anybody thinks we should not rush it through. Really, the message is: can the Government pause it, slow down, change their mind and agree with me? That is not the same as saying that we should pause and rethink; it is saying, “Pause and do what I tell you to do”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, suggested that the Bill creates a bullying approach to negotiations with the EU. I disagree. For me, what the debate so far has illustrated is the bullying approach within this House on this discussion. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, says that the Bill is not going to get through this House unless it is changed beyond all recognition. Really? Do we not have votes? What does the noble Baroness mean when she says it is not getting through?

Just to correct what the noble Baroness said about my contribution, I did not say that the Bill will not get through; I said that it will not get an easy ride, and I think the discussion today has rather borne that out.

I wrote it down and I will check. It was said that if there were not substantial alterations to the Bill, this House will block it. I suggest that it might be a bit of an affront to democracy for people in this House to say that we should block the Bill. That is not our decision. When people here talk about how the Bill is an affront to democratic decision-making, I point out that threatening to block a Bill is an affront to democratic decision-making. When people say that they are worried that the Bill bypasses Parliament, and that they want to protect democratic norms and do not want the Government to become an elected dictatorship, they should note that blocking the Bill would imply bypassing Parliament, undermining democratic norms and turning this House into an unelected dictatorship.

Finally, why do I think the Bill is needed? This bit, I can go into. The problems of the operation of the protocol are well documented. Many people have greater experience of it than I do, but when we scrutinise the Bill and go through it, that is what we should talk about, and whether the Bill is fit for purpose to resolve some of those things. I agree with that. But the reason a Bill is needed is surely because the rule of law—and everybody here seems enthusiastic about the rule of law—will be applied differently to the people of Northern Ireland unless we do something about the way the protocol is being enacted. To be able to ensure that all citizens of the United Kingdom are treated equally under the law, we need to do something—it cannot be that all citizens are treated equally under the rule of law in the UK apart from a certain section of the UK who will be subject to decisions made by legislators that they have no control over.

As a civil libertarian, regardless of what you think of Brexit, if you believe in the rule of law, you cannot let things stand as they are. We need to urgently do something. While some have indicated that the real problem is Brexit, that ship has sailed. The British people spoke. Brexit is a reality and we have to live with that. We have to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland are not punished.

Has the noble Baroness seen the latest opinion poll, which shows that, when you exclude “Don’t knows”, 60% of British people want to rejoin the EU?

I am always delighted when people think that opinion polls and what is said on Twitter are democracy in real life. I do not know why we bother with the ballot box—we should just go to an opinion poll. I believe in democracy and the democratic right of the British and UK people to make their decisions without rushing off to Opinium Research, or whoever it may be.

My Lords, I am sure the House would not expect me to, or hope that I would, follow that contribution. I apologise for not being able to speak at Second Reading. I was travelling, as it happens, back from the United States and could not get here before the proper time and date to indicate a wish to speak in the debate. However, that travel to the United States prompts me to say this: we ignore at our peril the importance attached on both sides of the aisle, and in both Houses of Congress, to the Belfast agreement. To put it neutrally, this Bill puts a stress and strain on that settlement. For that reason, and for all the others eloquently put forward today, this Bill should at the very least be delayed.

I remind the House that, some time ago, we were presented with a Bill nominally in relation to internal markets. It contained a Part 5, the purpose of which was to create a law whereby the Government would be excused when it broke the law. The Government have form on this matter, and there is a sense in which the Bill we are discussing is simply part of the same kind of thinking. What has been said today has been said with great eloquence; what was said in this House on the internal markets Bill was said with great eloquence and eventually the Government had to abandon it.

My Lords, I rise to speak with some trepidation as, apart from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, this has been a convention of like-minded people, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, put it.

I have just come hot-foot from a Committee A (Sovereign Matters) meeting at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Cavan. We were addressed by the Taoiseach at some length and by other Irish Ministers. There was much discussion of these matters during the day. However, no Irish Minister said, “Whatever you do, when you get back to London, make sure that this protocol Bill is stopped”. It is simply not a contentious matter in these negotiations. That is a simple fact. A very large percentage of what has been said today about the need for good faith and how dropping this blunderbuss will strengthen our position is, with the kindest of respect, totally irrelevant.

The EU has decided, for its own perfectly good reasons—it is keen to reach this deal; I utterly believe in its good faith—that this Bill will not stop substantive negotiation. What it would do, if the majority opinion in this House were to prevail, is stop the Government’s attempt to bring the DUP back into the Assembly. That will be its only real effect. Neither the Taoiseach nor the other Irish Ministers said a word about it yesterday at Committee A (Sovereign Matters), because this Bill is not central to them. What is central to them is the ongoing negotiation, which is proceeding with good faith on both sides and from which I sincerely hope for a result. It is very important to say that.

A great part of what has been said is, I am sure, very well meant but, to put it bluntly, totally irrelevant. It is not the realpolitik of the moment. That is very important to understand. Dropping this Bill will not transform those negotiations into a better or worse state. They are going on now; they are facing some very difficult problems—I think there may be some progress—and we can certainly hope, as I am sure everybody in the House does, for an outcome on this. But it is simply pointless, bootless and, worst of all, deeply irrelevant to keep arguing and going on about the need to drop the Bill because it would lead to greater faith in negotiation. The negotiations are already in play, in good faith—end of story. However, it would have an effect on our ability to get the DUP back into government.

Now, I said at Second Reading that I consider the DUP to be moving, bluntly, too slowly on this matter, and it does leave the Government’s strategy in an exposed position—we must be clear about this.

However, the Government must follow international law, and international law in Article 1(5) of the Good Friday agreement is quite clear: where they are faced with the potential for long-term alienation of a particular community, the UK Government have to act. That is their responsibility under the international agreement in the United Nations not to allow the long-term alienation of one community. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Caine, in recent weeks, on a matter of concern to the nationalist community, has pushed through the Irish language legislation in this House, which is principally to address potential alienation in that community.

That is where we are with international law, I am afraid, and that is the prior international agreement, so the Government have to attempt, in a serious way, to end the alienation with the unionist community, which every poll—if we are talking about opinion polls—and every election result shows is total on this point. The Government have an absolute responsibility to act; they are acting under an international obligation.

Again, I am always amazed how little discussion there is in this House about the reality, because we cannot talk about the protocol Bill on its own without acknowledging the fact that the protocol itself—both in Theresa May’s version and in Boris Johnson’s version—commits in many places to the primacy of the Good Friday agreement being observed. The primacy of the Good Friday agreement is not a new doctrine produced by the last Government and supported still by this Government, as I understand it; it is actually there in the protocol.

Therefore, when you say, “This is illegal” and “That is illegal”, you have to realise that you have to talk about the interaction of two texts. In March 2019, the then Attorney-General—supported from the Front Bench in this House—said that the Good Friday agreement was the prior agreement and that in certain circumstances the protocol could be resiled from. It was said in this House, and nobody objected. I remember when the importance of the primacy of the Good Friday agreement was asserted from the Front Bench; nobody said a word.

Now at that very time—and I look at the noble Lord, Lord Dodds—I was trying to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, to do a compromise deal with the May Government to get it through. What the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, said in effect was, “That is very interesting”—about the primacy of the Good Friday agreement—“and that could be the way forward, because it could be a way of protecting and balancing our rights, but I do not believe Parliament on this matter.” The way you have all behaved in the last hour and a half shows that he was entirely right not to believe Parliament. He said, “We need more than that, though it is an interesting opening gambit.” That is why it was said by the Attorney-General on that day on 12 March—the Attorney-General gave the Brexit Secretary the authority to say it—in an attempt to do a deal. But he said no. Why did he say no? Because he thought lots of people would not follow through, and you have just proven in spades that, unfortunately, I was wrong when I told him to compromise, and he was right, because that is exactly how you have functioned.

Can I ask the noble Lord whether he thinks that the Government’s intention to call a Northern Ireland Assembly election on Friday will assist matters?

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, very much for that question. The short answer is that I agree with her. We have a new Prime Minister, which begs the occasion for looking again at that question because, frankly, we need some more weeks to see how the negotiations go and so on and, frankly—

The negotiation with the European Union is proceeding apace anyway. This is of no relevance —I keep saying this—and nobody in the Irish Government even bothered to talk about the protocol Bill.

By the way, is there a majority of popular opinion in Northern Ireland against the protocol? I think that is probably right, although there is a large minority for it, but you all must appreciate we have long since left majority rule behind.

On the calls from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, for new information, I completely respect them, but, actually, the truth is extremely simple. We basically know where we are in terms of business. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, who chairs the Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, said on Sunday, businesses with a north-south dimension like the protocol, and those with an east-west dimension do not like it. We already have a lot of information and, politically, we already know.

By the way, the passion for the full implementation or support for it in Northern Ireland, which was real at one point, is dead—completely dead. That having been said, I would totally accept that the majority of the parties and Members in the Assembly—

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for giving way. While I was not at BIPA, my clear understanding—and I have just had it confirmed—is that the Irish Government’s position is quite clear that they view this protocol Bill as an unnecessary, unilateral move that breaks international law. Of course, they want to see a successful outcome to negotiations between the UK and the EU.

I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. Of course I take the point, but I was saying that nationalist Ireland basically does not like this Bill. That is not the point. The point is that it is not in any way stopping or infringing or slowing up the negotiations. The point is that the equality of esteem doctrine, which we are supposed to be following with the Northern Ireland protocol, means that the House is bound by international law to pay attention and to try and do something. On whether this Bill is precisely right, there are amendments starred in the normal way to be discussed, but we are not in the situation where we are talking about amendments.

I have great sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Howard, who raised the issue of Article 16. However, when I look at the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who was in a critical position on this matter for quite long spells in recent times, I think that he is bound to be surprised by the sudden outbreak of support for the implementation of Article 16, because at any time when he voiced the same civilised opinion in this Chamber, noble Lords were totally against it and regarded it as outrageous—of course it never was.

There is even a case now for the implementation of Article 16, made by Professor Boyle, who was professor of international law at Edinburgh, to both the House of Commons Select Committee on this matter and our own Select Committee on this matter. He is actually open to the argument for the importance of the prior international agreement and the importance of protecting it. He is a very distinguished international lawyer. What I understand him to be saying is that, first, you must apply Article 16; that is a perfectly reasonable argument that I am open to. In addition—I look at the noble Lord, Lord Howard, in engaging on this point—the other point that I very much agree with him about is that there is no need to ask the EU to change its negotiating mandate; it has to live up to its commitment to the Good Friday agreement.

The context is one in which—Members of this House do not read the Irish media as I do, and Irish books, articles and so on—there is a fairly consistent admission on the part of the Irish Government’s negotiating team that, when Theresa May was on her knees in November 2017, the advantage was pushed very hard in that agreement, and that they took sole ownership, or sole guardianship, of the Good Friday agreement. In many ways, what is happening here is an attempt by the British Government to say, “Well, actually, that is not really the Good Friday agreement. First of all, you do not have sole ownership. Secondly, we have responsibilities as a sovereign Government not held by the Irish Government and”—as I have tried to explain—"we are trying to move back to deal with this in some way.”

This does not mean that every clause in this Bill is particularly wise, but it does mean that we should not take the attitude that in principle we should not be doing it, or that we must stop now because otherwise the EU will stop negotiating—that is clearly not true. I agree that the Irish Government do not like the Bill and that they believe that it infringes international law. I absolutely accept that point, but the point is that we have to follow our obligations under international law, which means that the long-term alienation of one community must be avoided. Unless the Government do something substantive such as this—

Does not the noble Lord think that it is slightly odd that his justification in law for supporting the Bill is not the Government’s?

The noble Lord has a point—but not as deep a point as he might imagine, because the Government have been consistent in saying that the primacy of the Good Friday agreement is the core of their position, in both the House of Commons and in this House. There are other details; there is phrasing. For example, as is well known, I am not as convinced of the need for language in this Bill about the Act of Union. I understand why it is there, but I am not convinced that it is relevant. There are other aspects that we will discuss, in the normal way, on amendments. There is detail that will come up later tonight, and there are things that need to be said, in the normal way. But this is not a normal discussion—

I am grateful to the noble Lord; he knows that I like and respect him. I am trying to follow the rationale of his argument with regards to us legislating here. Earlier, he made the case—he stressed it repeatedly—that the only purpose of the Bill as he can see it is for the DUP to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly. As far as legislators are concerned, does that mean that the DUP also has a veto on any regulations that come as a result of this Bill?

We are in political negotiations. Here is our problem; I have already explained it. When I tried to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, I said, “Just believe the British Government when they say that the Good Friday agreement is the dominant thing”. We can see now what has happened here. You only have to read the Dublin newspapers, to be frank, to realise what has had happened.

We cannot undo a negotiation that we lost. It is not the officials’ fault; the Prime Minister had lost an election and was desperate to get in and to make any kind of progress to justify her existence. You cannot undo this; I am not suggesting that it is possible. You lose, you lose—end of story, at one level. However, at another level, what it means is that the EU is committed to the Good Friday agreement, and it does not understand what it is committed to. You only have to read Michel Barnier’s memoirs to see that he has no idea about the importance of the east-west dimension and that his description of the north-south dimension is literally fantasy, which has been derisorily commented on in all sections of the Irish media.

We are bound into this agreement, but we cannot be bound into a fantasy. We have to unhook. We must have a good-faith negotiation in which we have to acknowledge the things that have gone wrong on our side and the EU has to acknowledge that the version of the Good Friday agreement it thought it had is not the real agreement. There is a strand three, for example, which talks about the importance of the east-west arrangements and so on. You can see how the original misunderstanding runs through all the texts and leads to the difficulties we are now in. To go back again to why I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, we do not need to ask the EU to change its mandate. We need to ask it to understand its mandate. Its mandate is the agreement. It does not take long to read it, by the way. There is a strand three about the importance of east-west relations, although you would not know it from Michel Barnier’s memoirs. You would not know it, and you would not really know what the north-south relationship is either. So, that is one reason why this negotiation has some potential, because both sides have to come to terms with their errors in the past.

I conclude with one thing, because I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and what he said about Baroness Blood—as did the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. However, we also have to remember what other former distinguished Labour Secretaries of State said in acknowledging this difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson—who was deeply involved in saving this process—said last week that he accepts that the Good Friday agreement and the protocol do not sit easy together; the tension is there. The noble Lord, Lord Murphy, talked about this in this Chamber as long ago as 6 December 2018. Distinguished Labour Secretaries of State know that there is a problem. The existence of the problem was not really acknowledged by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, earlier this afternoon.

My Lords, in all this discussion, not enough is said about the horror of what was experienced in the years leading up to the Good Friday agreement. We are forgetting that. In the language of decency in the House of Lords, we are allowing ourselves to somehow not remember the full horror of that period. That horror was rooted in inequality, a lack of rights for certain people in the community, and a strong sense that the only way towards peace was to somehow protect the rights and equalities of people in Northern Ireland. You would not have got people to the table if there had not been a very honest discussion about the pain, loss and suffering that came out of those inequalities. I can say this as somebody who did more trials involving those Troubles than probably anybody in this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, said that the primacy of the Good Friday agreement is there in the protocol. All I can say is, let us remind ourselves of that and what was at the heart of the Good Friday agreement: a recognition that the platform on which rights were being premised was the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Justice’s protection of rights. So, when it came to the protocol, a formula had to be found to protect rights. One of the things that was part of that commitment was that, in order to deal with the strong sense of injustice that had led to the Good Friday agreement, there should be no diminution of rights going forward, and that in the protocol we would be committing ourselves to making sure that rights would follow into Northern Ireland as they developed in Europe. Of course, that is one of the things that members of the DUP are not too happy about. They do not like the idea that there might ultimately be some place in which solutions are found when there is conflict over rights and the development of rights.

Noble Lords will remember that at the heart of the whole Brexit debate was the idea that we had to disentangle ourselves from European courts. There is still a whole section of the UKIP-driven Conservative Party that even wants to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. This House should not forget that rights and equality and the pursuit of them was part and parcel of the Good Friday agreement. That is why people are sensitive; it is not talked about sufficiently in this House.

If we are to have impact statements, and if we have some time to look at what the implications of the Bill might be, I would like us to look at its implications when it comes to that very carefully drawn set of protections for rights and equality in Northern Ireland which was at the basis of the Good Friday agreement, and which has to be still in our minds as we talk about the protocol. I am afraid that that is being lost in the whole business of whether there are going to be tariffs and so on. Of course, those matters are of vital importance, but there are other rights in here as well. That is why I am in favour of some delay, because I would like to see a proper assessment of the impact of the Bill, in a deep way, on that carefully wrought Good Friday agreement, which was about rights and equality as much as other things—actually, it was fundamentally about that.

I also want to know why we are not seeing the legal opinion which says what our position is with regard to international law. There is not a lawyer in this House who does not agree that this is an affront to international law, as I mentioned last time. On Monday of this week there was a meeting in this House about the treatment of Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong. He is a media owner being put on trial under the new national security law because of the erosion of the rule of law in Hong Kong. We want to say that that is an affront to international law because of the agreement made with China over Hong Kong’s future, but how can we say that with any kind of respect in the world when we are doing this to another international treaty because it has become inconvenient to us? That really is wrong, and I would like an impact assessment on the human rights implications of this piece of legislation.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, because he has at least made the effort to present an argument as to why the Bill is not a breach of international law—something that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, the Advocate-General for Scotland, for whom I have great admiration in other circumstances, expressly declined to do at the end of Second Reading. As I understand it, the argument from the noble Lord, Lord Bew, is that international law includes the Good Friday agreement, which recognises the need to pay close attention to the views, interests and aspirations of all sections of the community—and here, most relevantly, the views of the unionist community, and in particular the DUP.

That argument deserves an answer so I will attempt briefly to explain why, in my respectful view, it is hopeless as a matter of international law. The reason why the argument is hopeless is that international law states that the doctrine of necessity simply cannot apply where the Government have caused or contributed to the problem that they now perceive and are seeking to address. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, cannot get away from the basic facts that the Government negotiated and signed the protocol. In international law, it is simply elementary that a state cannot sign a specific agreement and then seek to resile from it because it takes the view that it is neither convenient nor in the interests of particular sections of the community. Indeed, the Government signed the protocol—and said they did so—because they took the view that it was the best way of protecting the views of all sections of the community, including the DUP. It therefore follows that, if the Government take the view that this is unacceptable, inconvenient and does not meet the DUP’s aspirations, international law demands that the Government negotiate with the EU and attempt to arrive at another solution. It is as simple as that.

It is a little more than just “a need to”, which is definitely there. I can see perfectly clearly that the noble Lord is not familiar with Article 1(5), to which I referred, which is an international agreement held in the United States. The crucial thing is that this is also about the commitment to support the Good Friday agreement in all its parts. I am saying something slightly more complicated. We have both agreed to do this. The EU does not understand, for example, that “in all its parts” includes east-west, the totality of relations, a benign relationship and so on. It is impossible to fit the description of the east-west trading relations we now have from the protocol. This is very much a matter of decisions made by the EU, such as on how much intervention was required—or not. This is very much about its regulatory interventions going beyond what is necessary in anything that is actually in the protocol because the protocol itself says that the integrity of the UK single market will be upheld. Those are the words of the protocol—the important bit is in paragraph 25—but that is not what has happened.

My point is this: it is not just a question of the EU and the responsibility of one community, which is definitely there in paragraph 1 of the international agreement. This is about strand 3. At this point in the negotiation, we are simply saying, “We have both agreed to this. Your regulations most certainly break strand 3 at the moment”. I cannot understand why that is such a terribly complicated point in international law. We have all signed up to this; it is an argument about the interpretation of it.

I bow to the noble Lord, who has immeasurably more knowledge and experience of Northern Ireland than I could possibly have, but of course I have read the Northern Ireland agreement and understand that there are two documents in international law. The simple point is that, in the protocol, we agreed the means by which we take the view that the Good Friday agreement should be implemented in the context of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. That is what we agreed; we cannot now say that we are going to resile from it unilaterally. It is as simple as that.

My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate because I had not realised that it would range so far and wide and across so many general issues. We had a lengthy debate at Second Reading in which a number of these topics were discussed; nevertheless, I think it is worth addressing some of the points that have been made and putting some of the issues on record as far as we are concerned.

I begin by joining noble Lords and noble Baronesses in their tributes to the late Baroness May Blood, who passed away recently. She lived and was brought up in the same part of Northern Ireland that I had the honour of representing in another place for almost 20 years, so I knew her very well indeed. I pay tribute to her great resilience, hard work, dedication and tenacity in her pursuit of the issues in which she believed strongly, as well as her dedication to young people in the Shankill and integrated education, as has been mentioned.

It is not incompatible to support this Bill and seek a negotiated outcome. On the negotiated outcome, although there is not a great history of flourishing talks with the EU and the United Kingdom on the protocol issues thus far, we hope that any negotiations lead to an outcome that is compatible with the aims and objectives contained in this Bill. This is not a matter of just tinkering around the edges and finding practical solutions, as has been said; some of the issues are fundamentally contained in the protocol. You cannot address the democratic deficit issue satisfactorily unless you address some of the content of the protocol.

No matter how much consultation, prior notice, discussion or involvement you agree to give Northern Ireland politicians in relation to EU laws covering 300 areas such as the economy—as well as further issues such as state aid, VAT and so on—the fundamental fact is that no elected representative of Northern Ireland either here at Westminster or in the Northern Ireland Assembly has any vote or decision-making capacity on vast swathes of laws that apply in Northern Ireland. How will that be addressed? This Bill goes some way to addressing that, but nothing I have heard being suggested by the proponents of delay, who are against the Bill, has offered any solution to that point. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, acknowledged the problem.

Our Sub-Committee on the Protocol, of which I have the honour of being a member, has looked at this issue in considerable detail; I recommend that noble Lords and noble Baronesses read the report that we commissioned on the scrutiny of legislation now applicable to Northern Ireland. They will see the extent to which Northern Ireland has been removed from the normal processes of democratic lawmaking, which people in this House have spoken about with great eloquence but which does not apply anymore to United Kingdom citizens in the 21st century. That is entirely unacceptable and is contrary to all the traditions of democracy that this mother of Parliaments has sought to uphold both here and abroad.

It has been asked what the problem is with delay. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, has dealt with one issue—

The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, has already spoken. I want to get on and not delay the House any longer, but I will give way once.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord. I have every respect for him; we have been together in Parliament for years. I want to understand clearly what he is saying. Is he saying that the Democratic Unionists will not withdraw their objections to the whole protocol unless Northern Ireland is allowed to leave the single market with the rest of the United Kingdom as the United Kingdom is otherwise developing? That would mean us telling the European Union that the single market has got to have a great hole in it, with no border controls at all so far as the Republic of Ireland and Ulster are concerned—because that is the Anglo-Irish agreement—no customs barriers in the Irish Sea and no application of single market law in Northern Ireland. Is that the proposition on which the DUP is saying that it is going to stop returning to a power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland?

I am grateful for the opportunity that the noble Lord gives me to clarify that point. If he looks in detail at the Bill, he will see that it does provide the opportunity for regulations to come forward. The Government have announced that they will produce regulations which allow for checks on goods destined for the European Union, and for the Irish Republic exclusively.

I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, said in her amendment about the publication of regulations. It is important that the regulations provided for in the clauses in the Bill are published, and as quickly as possible, so that we can all see exactly what is proposed to replace the current, unacceptable arrangement. However, my understanding is that those regulations have talked about a red and a green channel, and that checks will be applied only to goods coming into the Irish Republic, so there will not be that gap or hole that the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, talked about.

It is also clear from the Bill that access to the single market would be retained, but that it would be the choice of businesses in Northern Ireland whether they want to be subject to EU or UK regulation, therefore sorting out to a large extent the democratic deficit point, while providing a way forward economically which is in everybody’s interests. When we come to sorting out the problems of the protocol, we have been told that no impact assessment has been carried out and that we need one for the Bill. There was no impact assessment carried out when the protocol itself was introduced, of course, concerning the negative impact that it has had on business.

I have a letter here from hauliers in Northern Ireland, who have written to a number of noble Lords saying that it is their contention that the economic costs of the protocol far outweigh the economic benefits. They say that if the protocol was implemented in full, it would crash Northern Ireland’s chilled and frozen food supply chains within 48 hours, and that it is reasonable to anticipate that this would cause a socioeconomic crisis. They talk about the need for the Bill. These are businesspeople. These are people who carry goods into Northern Ireland from Britain, into the Irish Republic, and from the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland into Great Britain. They know what they are talking about, so we should not generalise here. We must take the evidence of the damage that has been done economically and constitutionally.

On international law, I bow to the superior knowledge of many very distinguished lawyers and practitioners in this House, but the noble Lord, Lord Bew, is right when he argues about the prior position of the Belfast agreement and that the protocol references the Belfast agreement in its wording—as amended by the St Andrews agreement, of course—and that cannot be ignored. We are told that upholding and keeping our word is vital to our international standing. However, I have in front of me the joint report, from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government, of 8 December 2017, when Theresa May was trying to make progress in her negotiations with the European Union. That agreement was hammered out over a number of days. If we are talking about people maintaining and upholding their word, I point out that it contains the following, in Article 50:

“In the absence of agreed solutions… the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom”,

which they now have,

“unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement”—

so the EU and the UK Government recognise that it is inconsistent with the Belfast agreement to have such regulatory difference—

“the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland.”

The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have never agreed to that. They were never even asked. This was the promise made to people in Northern Ireland by the EU and the UK. After that was agreed, the UK Government, never mind the EU, paid scant attention to that article when seeking the agreement of people in Northern Ireland to any regulatory divergence. If we are talking about upholding our word, people in Northern Ireland are entitled to ask, “What happened to that agreement? What happened to that commitment? Why was the protocol imposed without any say or consent by people in Northern Ireland?”

We talk about the blunderbuss—the threat that has been put on the table. I remind noble Lords that the EU has now launched infringement proceedings against the United Kingdom for its having unilaterally extended grace periods and other matters—without which, as the hauliers say in their letter, the supply chain to Northern Ireland would crash and burn within 48 hours. This is essential for the free flow of goods to Northern Ireland, yet the EU has put on the table legal action against the UK Government, and that is not mentioned.

I will close; I am conscious of time, but it has been a wide-ranging debate thus far. The Bill is necessary because the protocol, as it stands, is incompatible with the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. At the heart of that agreement, as amended by the St Andrews agreement, is the principle of consent. It is not only the DUP that opposes the current arrangement. Every single unionist elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, as late as five or six months ago, opposes the protocol. The foundation of power-sharing in Northern Ireland is not majority rule any more; we have not had majority rule for 50 years in Northern Ireland. It is the mutual agreement of unionists and nationalists, and not a single unionist of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Traditional Unionist Voice, or independents, of which there are a number, supports the current arrangements.

The protocol is incompatible not only with the Belfast agreement but with Northern Ireland’s constitutional position. I am conscious of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, that it was not necessary to deal with that in this legislation, but the courts have ruled that Article 6 of the Act of Union has been subjugated by the protocol and that Great Britain is now a third country as regards “imports” from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

As I have said, the protocol is incompatible with the upholding of proper British and UK democratic standards, for the reasons that I have already outlined, and it is damaging our prosperity. You cannot have VAT exemptions or derogations, which the UK Government have recently announced on energy products, applied to Northern Ireland, because we are subject to EU VAT rules. That cannot be right. It is also contrary to the New Decade, New Approach document, which was agreed by all the parties, the Dublin Government and the UK Government in January 2020. It says on page 47, annexe A:

“The Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the UK internal market”,

As has been set out in the reasons given for the introduction of the Bill, this is to address the fact that Northern Ireland is no longer an integral part of the UK single market. That is indisputable.

To those who say it is unbelievable that a Conservative Government would be doing this and bringing forward this legislation, I say it is unbelievable that a Conservative and Unionist Party ever brought forward the protocol in the first place. That is the really telling point. We did not support it. What we are asking for is our democratic rights to be restored.

The Conservative Party can be criticised for many things, and we have criticised it very often. We have had our battles over the years. But if there is now an attempt to put right something that is fundamentally wrong, antidemocratic and runs counter to the Belfast agreement, runs counter to the agreement the basis of which was for the restoration of Stormont and the Assembly, that should be applauded. I hope negotiations can succeed, but they will have to deliver what is in the protocol, otherwise we will not get to a point where we will have stable government restored in Northern Ireland. That is a fundamental fact. Sinn Féin kept Stormont down for 1,044 days over the Irish language issue that the noble Lord, Lord Bew, referred to.

We do not want instability to continue for one day longer. In July 2021, the Government published a Command Paper saying that the conditions had been met then for the instigation of Article 16. As has been said, Article 16 is now very much flavour of the month, but at the time it was denounced by all the parties in Northern Ireland and most people here as being an outrageous infringement of democratic norms and a breach of good faith and of international law. All sorts of things were said about it. So there is urgency, and that is why I urge noble Lords to proceed with the Bill and move ahead. If negotiations do not end in a satisfactory outcome, we will have to return to this legislation, and it is better to proceed with it now than to have to start further down the road at a point when it would become absolutely essential.

My Lords, first I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. As I was rising, I looked at the clock and never in the Ahmad history in the House of Lords has something so innocuous as saying “I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill,” resulted in such an intense debate. I shall remember for next time.

Secondly, my noble friend Lord Clarke mentioned that he looks towards the House of Lords and, as he comes here more often, I assure him, not that I agree with the substance of what he has said, but that his contributions and those of all noble Lords enrich the debate. One of the key components of the House of Lords is asking the Government to think again. I am sure I speak for my colleagues on the Front Bench as well in saying that we have certainly been in thinking mode.

There is a third element before I get into the detail. I was taken by the various descriptions of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred to it as a “pig”. As a Minister who also is a practising Muslim, I thought for a moment that the stewardship and handling of the Bill would cause me a cultural challenge. But I soldier on with loyalty to King, country and Government.

In all honesty, this debate has been an important one. I think we are all agreed that it has again brought forward views on the importance of Northern Ireland as an integral part of what defines our very United Kingdom. Notwithstanding the different perspectives, I know all Members of your Lordships’ House are at one on the principle that the integrity of the United Kingdom must be protected. The fact is that the Northern Ireland protocol must work for all communities in Northern Ireland and, of course, the wider United Kingdom. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is correct—we signed the Northern Ireland protocol. But any contract—I do not speak as a lawyer but I have done a few contracts in a previous life as a banker—is also signed in good faith. It has to work for all sides and all communities.

There are good reasons why we are bringing forward this Bill. First, clearly the Northern Ireland protocol in itself is not working, as we heard from the noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord Dodds, for all communities in Northern Ireland. There is clearly a problem when we talk of the east-west issue, particularly in terms of trade. The other thing is not so much a legal point and was one that I raised in briefings with noble Lords. The EU is aware of the Bill’s existence and I am delighted, as I was sitting here—there is always a bit of trepidation for any Minister doing a debate in the middle of a reshuffle of the Cabinet and the wider ministerial team—that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been reappointed to his role, because continuity in negotiations is also important. I know for a fact that my right honourable friend has prioritised the importance of our discussions with our European Union colleagues and friends.

Again, the EU as well as our colleagues in the Republic of Ireland are very much—I hope that was appreciated, I am keen to get the pronunciations right here—aware that this Bill is going through your Lordships’ House and it has not, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, reminded us, hindered the discussions we are having. People will have different perspectives and of course I respect the point raised by several noble Lords about the position the Irish Government or indeed others within the EU may have on the Bill itself. But I can assure noble Lords that this has not prevented us from having constructive engagement with parties in Northern Ireland, as well as directly with the EU.

Therefore, I will move quickly, if I may, into the substance of the Motion and indeed the amendment from my noble friend. I will take both amendments together in the interests of time—the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, and the one in the name of my noble friend Lady Altmann. To address the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, made in introducing this, I say again that it is Her Majesty’s Government’s preference—I mean His Majesty’s Government’s preference; we must get that right as well—that we resolve this issue through negotiations and direct talks.

In this regard, I said I would update your Lordships’ House. Last week again my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič had very important discussions. They have spoken again, reiterated their shared commitment to potential solutions to this issue and remain directly in touch. The Government are engaging in constructive dialogue with the European Union to find solutions to these problems and the Government will—I have given that commitment before—update Parliament on talks with the EU as these progress.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, as representatives of the two Front Benches, as well as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, that I will continue to engage with all Front-Benchers to ensure that we are fully updating your Lordships’ House during the progress of this Bill.

I am also pleased to accept the assurances given by His Majesty’s Opposition that they will not press this amendment. I am grateful for that. It is important that we had this lengthy debate, because the issues raised are important and a Government in presenting a Bill need to deal in responding to it. Those responses may not be satisfactory, but nevertheless it is important that we have a detailed discussion.

On the specific issues that were raised, I thank the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its report on the Bill, which the Government are considering. Of course, I take due note of what the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and other noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the Constitution Committee’s report have said about the importance of the Government’s response being published in good time to allow for due consideration of it in advance of the next stage of this Bill, particularly at Report stage. That point is very much noted.

Taking other elements raised in both amendments, I highlight that, since the Bill was introduced—I assure my noble friend Lady Altmann of this—the Government have continued to engage extensively with groups across business and civic society in Northern Ireland. My noble friend Lord Caine has been engaging directly in some of these discussions, which will continue. They are also important for the rest of the UK and internationally. I fully accept that Ministers remain accountable to Parliament for all this work and will be examined on it, in the usual way.

The Government are also receiving feedback on our various levels of engagement, and we will continue to develop the details of our approach. Of course, your Lordships’ House will have the opportunity to scrutinise regulations. These are being worked out in the usual fashion, including through debates, and the Government will provide all usual accompanying material under normal parliamentary procedures.

The regulations were referred to by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, in his closing remarks. They will be a product of the engagement with business to which I have already referred and will, importantly, ensure that the implementation of the new regime is as smooth and operable as possible.

Finally, I also stress that, while stakeholder views are of huge importance to the Government and will be given proper consideration, it is ultimately for Ministers to decide how to exercise these powers and for Parliament to scrutinise and hold Ministers to account, in the usual way.

I am sure that we will return to some of the points discussed in this opening debate during the discussions on the various amendments that have been tabled today, but I will pick up on a few of them now. The Government fully intend to respond to the Constitution Committee in due course. That was raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who also raised the infringement proceedings, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, also alluded. We have written to the European Union stating that we intend to maintain the existing operational arrangements on the protocol. The noble and learned Lord will recognise that I cannot discuss current legal proceedings further.

In this respect, the noble and learned Lord also talked about expediting judicial review. JR raises technical points of constitutional law, on which the Government have successfully made representations to date. We are concerned with points of law that are not of primary concern to this debate. However, again it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on a case that is soon to be before the Supreme Court.

Several issues have been raised consistently, as they were during Second Reading. At this juncture and in the interests of moving on to the specific amendments, I say that we are here—there are three Ministers on the Front Bench—because of the seriousness with which the Government take the important issues being raised in your Lordships’ House. We will continue to reflect on your Lordships’ important contributions—the points of principle, the points of law and the points about standing up for international law.

As someone who has been in government for a while—the last time I checked, I still was—I assure you to my core that the point about international law and the rights of citizens, wherever they are in the world, is very important, but no more important than the rights of our own citizens, including those in Northern Ireland. We will reflect on some of the specific questions that have been raised and those that will be raised while the Bill is in Committee and respond accordingly. I am sure we will return to many aspects of our discussion as the Bill progresses.

My Lords, that the Government have said they will publish the draft regulations is very welcome, but I do not think the Minister mentioned when. This is a key issue, because noble Lords deserve to see the draft regulations before progressing.

One of my introducing Peers was my noble friend Lord Howard. He often said to me, “Tariq, when noble Lords get on their feet, as a minimum, they already have the answer to the question they are asking. They have probably also written a book about the subject”. I suggest that the noble Baroness has not written a book about regulations, although a number of our colleagues may have. I cannot specify a date at the current time, but I note the noble Baroness’s comments.

I hope that my noble friend Lady Altmann and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, are minded to withdraw their amendments.

My Lords, I shall not detain the House. We have had a very good debate. I thank my noble friend for his words and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Baroness Altmann’s amendment (to Baroness Chapman of Darlington’s amendment to the Motion) withdrawn.