House of Lords
Monday 31 October 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.
Introduction: Lord Soames of Fletching
The right honourable Sir Arthur Nicholas Winston Soames, Knight, having been created Baron Soames of Fletching, of Fletching in the County of East Sussex, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Maude of Horsham and Lord Benyon, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Taylor of Stevenage
Sharon Jane Taylor, OBE, having been created Baroness Taylor of Stevenage, of Stevenage in the County of Hertfordshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Baroness Wilcox of Newport, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Estonia: UK Troop Levels
My Lords, the UK has worked in close partnership with Estonia to ensure that our force posture is correctly calibrated for the current security climate. We will continue to collaborate with Estonia on an enduring basis to implement the commitments offered by the UK at the NATO Madrid summit, and to ensure that our troop levels are commensurate with Estonia’s NATO security needs. The implementation of our summit commitments will increase the overall capability of our forces in Estonia.
My Lords, is it not the case that the number of UK troops in Estonia is being halved? Estonia is a key NATO ally, on the front line of NATO and its border with Russia. Therefore, is it any wonder that the Estonian Government are extremely disappointed with us, with their Foreign Minister telling our media that this is an issue of existential security for Estonia? As we are a senior member of NATO, and given Estonia’s need for and call for existing UK troop levels to be maintained, is it not time for a rethink, given that Estonia’s security is our security?
The noble Lord will be aware that the second battle group currently deployed was always designed to be temporary. It was placed there at the start of the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The noble Lord will also be aware that we are enhancing the lethality of the permanent EFP battle group, so we will maintain divisional level assets in country, we will augment these with episodic deployments of battle-winning capabilities, we are enhancing our EFP HQ, which will be led by a brigadier, and we are committed to the development of Estonian national divisional C2. So the overall commitment by the UK is being enhanced and strengthened.
My Lords, it was reported last week that Russia had carried out simulated nuclear drills. Do our troops in Estonia have NBC protective clothing and equipment available to them? In the event of the use of a Russian nuclear weapon, has NATO spelled out specific retaliatory actions and do any of them involve the use of British military personnel?
The noble Lord will be aware that the attitude of NATO, and of the United Kingdom and our allies, is to invite Russia to de-escalate this rhetoric. Frankly, it will be destabilising and unhelpful if it continues to be intensified. The noble Lord will also be aware that, in connection with our overall commitments to NATO and the contribution we make not just to the enhanced forward presence but to equipment and personnel support, we will ensure that our troops are equipped appropriately for whatever task might confront them.
My Lords, the United Kingdom has a long-standing relationship in defence in that region, particularly with Norway. Will we co-operate with our Nordic and Baltic partners to make it quite clear to Russia that any incursion in any of the Baltic states is unacceptable, and that part of that must be to keep a substantial military presence in the Baltic states, which of course include Estonia, where we have a particular interest?
I reassure my noble friend that we work closely with our friends in the Baltics, not least in Norway and Sweden and with our other presence in that area. He will be aware that, with our NATO commitments, we are very much committed to having a mobile and enhanced lethality in the area. As I said to the noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches, that is designed to ensure that, whatever threat confronts us, we are able to play our part in seeing it off.
My Lords, we have every reason to support Estonia, having helped it regain its independence in 1922. However, is not Estonia’s immediate, real problem that it is being bombarded every hour of every day by Russian cyberattacks and fake attacks which aim to undermine and demoralise the whole country? Can the Minister assure us that this kind of defence—which, in the modern world, is probably the most important of all—is being thoroughly reinforced by us to enable Estonia to withstand Russian undermining?
My Lords, does the Minister agree that Britain has won a lot of credit in northern Europe by the commitment that we have made to Estonia? This is a very important part of our NATO commitment and in the modern Baltic states, in Poland and in the Nordic countries, this has been noted. Does she agree that it is not good optics for the UK to so drastically cut the level of its force commitment to Estonia? It is very positive that Sweden and Finland are joining NATO, but does she not agree that there is a risk that they may, in time, take over the lead in this area of commitment to defence?
The intention of Sweden and Finland to join NATO is very welcome. Anything that cements the co-ordination and collaboration of countries with like-minded principles and values in the Baltic area is to be welcomed. Our future force posture in Estonia currently comprises 994 UK personnel, but it will rise to 1,020 when the battle group rotates in March. That is in addition to the enhanced details of capability that I outlined to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.
The noble Lord will understand that, were we to retain that second battle group in Estonia, it would require significant extra investment and additional temporary winterisation of infrastructure and storage—and, of course, it would have a detrimental operational impact on the overall flexible deployment of the Army. We have a very good relationship with Estonia, as I said earlier. We have a robust and enhanced capability that we are making available to Estonia. I think that is a matter for commendation.
My Lords, why does the UK now have the smallest Armed Forces it has had at any point since the Napoleonic wars? Is it really realistic for the UK to play a full role in confronting the threat from Putin’s Russia with Armed Forces of that size?
As the noble Lord will understand, looking back to the integrated review, what became very clear was that the review identified that it is not just numbers we have to talk about but capability, technical advancement and what we equip our Armed Forces with. That now includes sophisticated technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotic activity. There is a whole manner of ways in which we are taking forward our troop presence and the capability of the Army that goes beyond thinking simply in terms of numbers.
My noble friend will be aware that in the MoD we constantly assess and respond to threat as the character of that threat emerges. What we did at the inception of the illegal invasion of Ukraine was to offer support where there might have been a vulnerability. It is important now, in conjunction with NATO and our other allies in the Baltic area, to work sensibly to collaborate—but nothing in any way diminishes our commitment to support that area.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her well-deserved reappointment as Minister of State in the defence department—even though she is very good at putting me in my place when I am trying to cause trouble. Today I have a very serious question in relation to Lithuania. She will understand the problems with Kaliningrad and Belarus effectively surrounding Lithuania, and the line in between potentially creating problems. Can she tell the House what discussions the UK Government have had with other Governments about what we can do to make sure that Lithuania as well as Estonia is protected?
I thank the noble Lord for his kind comments. I sometimes feel that when he offers polite and complimentary remarks to me I should count my fingers afterwards—but I absolutely take his remarks in the spirit in which they are given, for which I thank him. It is a serious situation, and how we address the threats confronting Lithuania is all part of the overall NATO and UK approach to the Baltic area. We do not in any way seek to underestimate or diminish the threat confronting Lithuania, but I think that with the NATO summit plan that was announced back in the summer of this year, with the commitments being made by the individual NATO partners, not least the United Kingdom, we are offering up a very strong reassurance to the Baltic countries that help is to hand if they need it.
European Political Community
My Lords, the UK attended the summit of the European Political Community as an independent sovereign nation, pursuing our national interest and working with our European neighbours on issues that matter to the British people, such as our support for Ukraine, energy and migration. The summit was an opportunity for the UK to lead the European debate through productive exchanges with European leaders, and we will build on this enhanced co-operation with our European neighbours.
I am grateful to my noble friend for those encouraging remarks and particularly for the attendance of the then Prime Minister at an event that dealt mostly with security and energy matters. Can he elucidate on future programmes for that entity? Do we know precisely what it will be discussing in future? Can he give me an assurance that our current Prime Minister will also attend? Does my noble friend also agree that we should use every opportunity to re-establish and improve our relations both with Europe and with the EU?
My Lords, it is expected—more than expected; it has been agreed—that the next host will be Moldova, followed by Spain, and the former Prime Minister Liz Truss agreed to host the third summit in the UK. Needless to say, we will engage with the hosts as well as with other partners to shape not just the event that we are hosting but those in Moldova and Spain.
My Lords, it was certainly a significant meeting. I want to ask the Minister two things: first, when will the Government set out to Parliament their aims and principles underlying engagement in this new forum? Secondly, will the Government commit to making a Statement to both Houses following each plenary session?
I thank the noble Earl for the second half of his question, which I will convey to the Government; it is not a commitment that I can make but I imagine that it is something that the Government will want to do. The UK has been clear from the start about the importance of any new European political gathering not duplicating the established work of, for example, NATO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE or the UN. However, the summit was an opportunity for the UK to lead that European debate and deliver on issues that matter for the UK. It is worth pointing out that around a third of the participants at the summit are not members of the European Union. No new structures, institutions or anything of the sort were created; this is a forum for addressing pan-European issues of common interest.
The attendance of the former Prime Minister at the EPC meeting was a welcome surprise. Given that one of the themes was security, as cited by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, can the Minister tell us what plans the Government have to advance co-operation in the foreign and security sphere; for instance, by providing support to EU civil and military missions under the EU’s common security and defence policy?
My Lords, there were no formal conclusions from the summit itself but progress was undoubtedly made in a bunch of areas and key priorities for the UK. For example, the former Prime Minister and President Macron issued a joint statement confirming plans to finalise arrangements to proceed with the Sizewell C nuclear power station by the end of the month—to be built, as noble Lords will know, by EDF. There was also agreement to enhance broader civil nuclear co-operation, to conclude a bilateral agreement on illegal migration, and to hold the first bilateral summit since 2018 in France next year.
My Lords, on the list that my noble friend just read out, he did not mention the use of interconnectors between the UK and the EU and what would happen in the event of an energy emergency. My understanding is that there is no agreement between the UK and the EU to cover such an eventuality. Was this discussed at the summit and what progress is being made to implement such an agreement?
My Lords, it will be for BEIS to provide specific details on next steps in relation to this issue but I can confirm that it was discussed. The former Prime Minister pushed for the development of new North Sea hybrid interconnectors to accelerate renewables capacity, among other things, but I am afraid that I will have to leave the outcome to colleagues in BEIS.
My Lords, I know it feels like some time ago but, at the Conservative Party conference, the Foreign Secretary said:
“We want to find ways of working well with our neighbours and partners … in Europe”.
I am rather disappointed with the Minister’s response; the security situation is incredibly grave and we do need more formal structures to address security. Instead of trading insults and threats to break international law, will the Government consider an EU-UK security pact to complement NATO in light of the security threats that we now face?
My Lords, the UK will always do what is in our interests, and our interests are closely aligned with those of our European neighbours. The fact that progress was made at the forum without that forum being owned exclusively by the EU, with the summit being open to other non-EU member countries on the continent—as I said, one-third of the attendees were not members of the European Union—and the fact that no new structures or institutions needed to be created mean that this is exactly the kind of forum that we need, to be able to talk honestly with our friends and to align our response to things such as Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine with one another in our mutual interest.
My Lords, both the UK and the EU have said that they want musicians to be able to tour freely. The present situation is particularly damaging to young up-and-coming artists seeking to perform in the EU. Might the UK Government seek to give a lead in improving relationships through unilateral actions, such as setting up a music export office to help to promote UK musicians globally or providing extra funding through a transitional support package, similar to that for fishing, particularly to help younger artists?
My Lords, what provisions have been made for this new community, which we warmly welcome, to meet in an emergency? Is there to be a small—I stress “small”—secretariat so that these nations, which include so many outside the European Union, can keep closely in touch?
My Lords, as I understand it, there are no plans for a formal secretariat. That is not to say that some kind of structure would not be set up on informal basis, but there are no plans for a formal secretariat. I point out to the noble Lord that there are numerous forums—not least NATO and the UN—where countries can meet in the event of emergencies.
Does the Minister agree that the strength of a bilateral relationship is when the participants in that relationship come equally to the table? There is a real benefit from having parliamentarians engaging first-hand with colleagues around the EU, as indeed with the Commission, just to help out the overall form of camaraderie and get things moving.
The noble Viscount makes an important point. That is true across all issues in all sectors. One of the most valuable organisations that I have been involved in is called GLOBE. It is about bringing legislators together from around the world to compare, and sometimes helpfully compete with one another in relation to, environmental legislation. That worked beautifully, and no doubt it works in every important sector.
My Lords, the participants, including the host country, are very clear that no new structures or institutions are to be created. That is absolutely not the purpose. There is a healthy scepticism towards the creation of such structures, precisely on the basis that they could end up duplicating the work of other such structures or even undermining it.
My Lords, given the suspected sabotage of the underground cables and communication pipes outside the island of Bornholm, affecting the supply of energy to Denmark and Sweden, what precautions are the Government taking to protect not just our interconnectors but all our underground cables, which are vital to our communications system in this country?
My Lords, I mentioned in response to a question from another noble Lord that discussions around the interconnectors took place, but I am afraid I am not in a position to provide an authoritative update. I will make sure that such an update is made available if that is possible.
My Lords, the Minister will recall the reply that he gave to the debate in your Lordships’ House in July about the blockading of the terminals in Ukraine, preventing grain flowing to the Horn of Africa and other poorer countries. He will have seen over the weekend that more than 200 vessels have been held in those ports, as Putin has now said that the blockade will recommence. Given that Turkey participated in the important summit in Prague, what discussions are we having with that country to ensure that the flow of grain will continue?
My Lords, those discussions with Turkey are ongoing, and they are key. As the noble Lord will know, Turkey, as an important NATO ally, played an important role in negotiating the Black Sea grain initiative that has enabled the export of over 8 million tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since 1 August. Those discussions continue with urgency, and they matter.
Incomes and Prices
My Lords, in March 2022, the Government set out their annual remit to the independent Low Pay Commission, asking it to make recommendations on the next uprating of the national living wage and minimum wage rates by the end of October. The Government will respond in due course, and the new rates will come into effect from April 2023. In addition, the Government announced the energy price guarantee and £37 billion-worth of support for the cost of living in this financial year.
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his reply. The reality is that wages face a catastrophic situation this year. The annual rate of increase in wages, on average, is 7% or 8% less than the average rate of increase in prices. The consequence will be that many will face poverty, hunger and cold, and employers will lose demand for their goods and services. The OECD Employment Outlook 2022, published earlier this year, recommends the enlargement of collective bargaining as the answer to falling wages. Will the noble Viscount and his Government consider this option and join New Zealand and the state of California in adopting the enlargement of collective bargaining?
First, we are very aware that people across the UK remain very worried about the cost of living—I think the House is very aware of that. The noble Lord raises an interesting idea. Certainly, collective bargaining plays an important part in the representation of workforces in the UK. The noble Lord will know, however, that the Government have accepted the pay recommendations of the independent pay review bodies, which cover the NHS, teachers, police and the Armed Forces, for 2022-23.
My Lords, the TUC today reported that 1.8 million public sector workers are seriously considering quitting because of the very low, nominal pay rises that they have received, which were well below real inflation and low compared to the private sector. Do the Government accept that if even a small portion of those workers go through and quit, our public services are essentially up the creek without a paddle? What are the Government are doing to stem departures?
We are certainly very aware of these pressures. The uplifts to which I alluded in my earlier answer are the highest in nearly 20 years, reflecting the vital contributions that public sector workers make to our country and the cost of living pressures facing households. More than 2 million workers will benefit across the country. I should also say to the noble Baroness that most overall pay awards in the public sector are similar to those in the private sector.
My Lords, the Minister says that pay rises in the public sector are very much in line with those in the private sector. That is not readily accepted by Members on this side of the House. Will he produce his evidence for that and place it in the Library, so that we can see the basis on which the Government are working?
I most certainly will do that. It is certainly a fact, but there is a lot more that we are doing, of course, to help people pay their bills. There are many who are really struggling at the moment, so this is not the only answer. We have to create that balance between recognising the vital importance of public sector workers, while delivering value for the taxpayer and being careful not to drive prices even higher in the future by contributing to the wage-price spiral.
Has my noble friend noticed that global wholesale gas prices are now falling and that global oil prices, despite the efforts of OPEC in the other direction, are also falling? This implies that the main source of our inflation problem, energy prices, will ease considerably—with luck—before the first half of next year. Would it not be wise to delay as long as possible, if we can do so without breaking any established laws and customs, the fixing of the estimates for full inflation for next year while ensuring that those demanding that wages are not cut too much in real terms also wait to see what actually happens?
I certainly take note of what my noble friend has said although I cannot particularly comment on it, because this matter falls very much within the remit of the Bank of England. As an observer, I too have noticed that there has been some slipping of energy prices; I have also noticed that mortgage rates are slightly down. But there is a long way to go, as they are very high and people are struggling very much, so I must make that point again.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that an independent pay review body is not the same as collective bargaining? Does he also recognise that the poorest 10% of households pay 47.6% of their gross income in direct and indirect taxes, compared with 33.5% paid by the richest 10%? In what sense could that possibly be consistent with the Government’s alleged levelling-up agenda?
The noble Baroness of course has much experience, particularly in the teaching sector, but the pay review bodies, of which there are eight, are very representative. They consider the needs of all public sector bodies and are made up of a number of representative parties, including trade unions and academics, to make the necessary decisions, so I believe that they are independent. One can have a discussion as to whether they are the same as collective bargaining, but that is where we are.
My Lords, I understand that the latest figures show that the average public sector pay increase is running at 3%, while in the private sector it is running at 7%. Can the Minister explain the difference between those figures and the figures that he has?
My Lords, the energy price guarantee will reduce some inflationary pressures over the winter period. However, does the Minister acknowledge that the scaling back of support from April 2023 could have a detrimental impact on inflation from that point? The Bank does not expect to meet the 2% target for some two years. Where does that leave working people, whose incomes will have to continue to be stretched further and further?
The noble Lord makes a good point because, as the House knows, we announced significant support worth over £37 billion for households this year, targeted at those who need it the most. However, we continue to keep the situation under review. The Chancellor has made it clear that, looking into next year, the Government will prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable and support those in need, while ensuring that we act in a fiscally responsible way.
My Lords, there seems to be consensus in the Government at last that the economy benefits when people have more money to spend or in their pockets. Government statistics show that the best way to improve pay is to join a trade union, such as my union, Unite, which has put £200 million into workers’ wallets through pay increases in the last year alone. It has won four in five out of more than 450 disputes. That is why, as my noble friend Lord Hendy said, the reintroduction of sectoral collective bargaining would make such a massive difference by growing wages, productivity, and the economy. Does the Minister agree?
I have said already that the unions play an important part through their role in representing workforces, and I stick by that, but it is not just that. There is the amount of support that we are giving over and above it. The noble Lord mentioned the energy price guarantee, but millions of the most vulnerable households will receive £1,200 of support this year through the £400 energy bills support scheme, the £150 council tax rebate and the one-off £650 cost of living payment. It is to do with how much they earn, but also how much we can stretch their pockets.
Earlier, the Minister referred to the inflationary pressures from wage rises. Why is he silent on the inflationary pressures caused by corporate profiteering, especially from energy companies, escalating executive pay and the billions being spent on share buybacks and dividends? Could he explain why he is being inconsistent?
The noble Lord will be aware that there is already a levy on energy companies. In terms of those earning at the higher level, I said in response to a question last week that I thought that raising the cap on bankers’ bonuses, for example, was a very good thing. It is very important that we attract the very best people from around the world as our investment bankers, who might bring in about £30 million just on one deal. It is better that it comes into the UK than to Frankfurt, Paris or New York.
Police and Crime Commissioners and Panels
My Lords, the two-part police and crime commissioner review considered the role of police and crime panels and concluded that they have the appropriate powers to scrutinise police and crime commissioners. However, the consistency and quality of this scrutiny can vary. Recommendations arising from the review have therefore focused on improving panels’ understanding of their role, the application of their existing powers and strengthening the professionalism and quality of the support provided to panels.
My Lords, I thank the Minister. Does he agree that, to do their core job of holding police and crime commissioners to account—nobody else does it, least of all the Home Office, I am afraid—it is necessary for a panel to be robust, challenging and fair? Much depends on the approach, attitude and style of the chair of the panel. Given the need for the public to have confidence in the system, would the Government consider amending the rules so that a chair of a police and crime panel cannot be from the same political party as the police and crime commissioner?
As the noble Lord will be aware, the Government believe that panels have the appropriate powers, agreed by Parliament, to effectively scrutinise the actions and decisions of PCCs and enable the public to therefore hold them to account. As I have also just said, we concluded a two-part review. In part 1 we took steps to improve and strengthen the scrutiny of PCCs by issuing new guidance and a training package for panels. Through part 2 we are undertaking a fundamental assessment of the panel support model to further improve the professionalism, quality and consistency of support provided to panels. I am very happy to take the noble Lord’s suggestion on chairmen back as part of that ongoing assessment.
My Lords, should not the police and crime panel in Leicestershire be urged to pass a vote of censure on the irresponsible PCC Mr Rupert Matthews for paying some £100,000 per year for advice from Mr Mike Veale, a discredited policeman who is facing a gross misconduct hearing? Could not that money have been spent better on front-line policing?
My Lords, it is not for me to comment on individual cases. However, police and crime panels must refer serious complaints and conduct matters to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. Panels are responsible for resolving non-serious complaints made about a PCC’s conduct when in office. Ultimate responsibility for handling any complaints they have received remains with the panel.
My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the likelihood of members of police and crime panels asking difficult questions of police and crime commissioners if they belong to the same political party, bearing in mind that they will want a police and crime commissioner from their own political party to be re-elected? Is it not time to take party politics out of policing?
I would argue that it is about public accountability, not party politics. We heard through part 1 of the PCC review that the public cannot always easily access information on how well their force is doing, which is obviously vital if they wish to hold PCCs to account. The review therefore recommended that the specified information order of 2011 was amended to require PCCs to publish additional information. That came into force in May 2021. There is transparency and accountability in the system, and rather more than under the old one.
My Lords, I remember when the original police and crime commissioners Bill went through the other place. Like other parties in the Midlands, where I come from, I wonder whether the role now pursued by police and crime commissioners is what was originally conceived. Given that worry, is it not time perhaps to have an overall look at the role of our police and crime commissioners?
My Lords, before the Government introduced police and crime commissioners, we had police and crime panels, just as we now have to oversee the police and crime commissioners. If that system was so bad that we needed to introduce police and crime commissioners, who cost a huge amount of money and whose ability is variable, why do we now have police and crime panels to oversee them?
I made it clear that there is a transparency and accountability issue. I am grateful to my friend Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner. She tells me that PCCs are more visible and approachable than the police authorities that they replaced. Many hold monthly accountability meetings with their chief constable, often online, which the public can attend and contribute to.
My Lords, surely the ultimate test of the PCC system and the panels is whether policing has improved as a result of the legislation that the Government brought in. Surely the general concern about the overall performance of police forces is an indication that the system is not working.
My Lords, I will be perhaps a little unhelpful to my noble friend and say that I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. Trust in the police has measurably declined in recent years. My noble friend’s predecessors have stood at that Dispatch Box and talked about the former chief constable of Wiltshire and commissioners of police in the London Met, and we have had endless examples of where the system is going wrong. Whatever system we have set up for this, is it not ultimately the Government’s responsibility to sort this out and restore trust in the police? Without that, we cannot trust in justice.
I thank my noble friend for his helpful question. It is of course up to the Government, and we talked about last week’s Casey review at some length in the Chamber. The Government are doing a lot to restore confidence in the police, and of course the police also have a responsibility to do so, as Sir Mark Rowley has said.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said, is there not example after example, across the country, of police and crime panels failing to hold chief constables and commissioners to account? Instead of the Government having review after review, is it not about time that police and crime panels were given the teeth to hold commissioners to account and, in that way, restore confidence to policing? If the Minister is so confident of the work of the police and crime panels, will he place in the Library a list of examples of where they have worked?
The Government are confident that the panels have the appropriate powers—agreed by Parliament, as I said—to effectively scrutinise the actions and decisions of PCCs and enable the public to hold them to account. Through the review process, we agreed that this scrutiny was inconsistent in some cases, and significant measures have been taken to do something about that. These include extensive engagement with members of the panels, which has proved popular; indeed, there are requests for more of that engagement.
My Lords, at the risk of asking another unhelpful question, I say that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, are on to something about the imperfections of the panels. But why not replace them with a really powerful body that could fire the police and crime commissioners just like that? We could call it the electorate. Is that not the strongest accountability of all?
Actually, that is a helpful question, because the electorate do of course have ultimate responsibility for the election of the PCCs. I am pleased to say that the electorate seem to be becoming more enthusiastic about the elections: turnout has increased every year. Obviously that is not determined by a single factor, but it is going up.
My Lords, the Minister’s definition of “enthusiasm” is certainly different from some that I could suggest. One of the main purposes of the whole system of police and crime commissioners was to get closer engagement between the public and policing. With three rounds of police and crime commissioners elections having taken place, the turnout has varied between poor and abysmal. Clearly, they are not fulfilling one of the key reasons for their having been established, so what is the point of them?
I have answered the question about the point. I have the turnout figures: in 2012, it was 15.1%; in 2016, it was 27.4%; and in 2021, it was 33.9%. We cheerfully accept that those are not the greatest numbers—certainly not relative to national elections—but, in a local context, they are not bad.
In most democratic contexts, they are pretty awful numbers. Did my noble friend see the report in the Times this morning quoting the chief constable of the West Midlands, in which he expressed great concern that crime figures were being inflated by including so-called intimidatory gestures, which resulted in no charges but created a fair amount of bureaucracy? Could this be something that the police and crime commissioners are asked to look into as a matter of urgency?
I absolutely think that it is, but police and crime commissioners are of course answerable to their electorate, so it depends on the electorate’s priorities. I imagine that the electorate of the West Midlands would share my noble friend’s concerns.
Private Notice Question
My Lords, as set out in the Written Ministerial Statement I laid on 28 October, we will continue to work at pace to lay draft statutory instruments as soon as practicable. Our next steps include agreeing the final targets across government and scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. His Majesty’s Government remain committed to our future targets to halt the decline in species by 2030 and to bring forward the wider suite of targets specified under the Environment Act as soon as practicable.
I thank my noble friend for his Answer. I congratulate him on not only his reinstatement in the department but his elevation to Minister of State; it reassures me that this Government are reaffirming their commitment to their manifesto promises on the environment.
It is of course disappointing that we have not met these targets by the due date. However, can we use this delay to increase, for example, our target for the protection of terrestrial sites, which would be very helpful in encouraging into domestic law our 30by30 commitment, and our species abundance target? I urge the Government not only to do this as fast as possible but to ensure that, by the time we attend COP 15 in Montreal, these targets are in place—and remember, they are just targets; what we really want is action.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his kind words. I share his and other noble Lords’ disappointment that we have not been able to fulfil the perhaps over-ambitious target date set out in the Act. However, I am confident that we will be able to show that we have meaningful evidence-based targets that will deliver on our overriding commitment to see a reversal in the decline of species by 2030. He is absolutely right to highlight the importance of sites, and the protection of rare and special habitats within them, as part of our 30by30 commitment. We are absolutely determined to achieve this not just for our own domestic benefit but, importantly, so we can say to other countries in the CBD, “We are doing it; so should you”.
My Lords, the Minister will know that the Office for Environmental Protection has also taken this failure seriously. In its latest letter to the Secretary of State, it has pointed out that this is not the only failure to comply with statutory legislation—it has also kindly included an annexe of other failures to comply. It is a non-exhaustive list and, as it says, a pattern is beginning to develop. Can the Minister assure us that Defra is addressing these issues? These are not just policies; they are statutory requirements that have been missed time and again. Can the Minister tell us what the department is doing to get back on track on these issues?
One reason why we will be publishing these targets later than we would have liked, and later than the Act required, is that we had over 180,000 responses to our consultation. It is important that we listen to those, because these targets affect people whose interests are not directly affected by Defra; they could be right across the whole gamut of what government does and how it regulates. It is important that we get this right.
I would hate for any noble Lord to believe that this is the one area of the Environment Act that really matters. It covers a whole range of other issues: storm overflows, our environmental principles, biodiversity net gain, waste, illegal deforestation, the establishment of the Office for Environmental Protection, and local nature recovery strategies. Work on all those are under way, and they were written into the Environment Act, which is what makes it such a world-beating piece of legislation that we want to see implemented.
My Lords, the Minister will be getting used to answering questions on the targets, which should, legally, have flowed from the Environment Act by now. Yet here we are, on 31 October, and no targets are forthcoming. With COP 27 approaching, is there any point at all in the Government sending any representatives when they have so woefully fallen short in setting targets, never mind meeting any?
That would be an absolutely extraordinary thing to do. The United Kingdom is a global leader on the environment. We are one of the leaders of the High Ambition Coalition, which is seeking to get countries right across the world to fulfil really demanding targets to protect nature, which has suffered depletion of such staggering quantity in recent decades. It is absolutely right that we continue to do this. I can tell the noble Baroness that the United Kingdom is revered abroad for the leadership we took at Glasgow and the leadership we are taking in the CBD. To diminish what we are trying to do internationally is quite extraordinary.
My Lords, I think there is a collective clunk of realisation of what it would actually take to replace that. That legislation was created for an environment that goes from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. I am sure she understands, being the expert that she is, that it is a bit clunky when it comes to dealing with the bespoke environment of these islands. It can be improved, but in a way that is at least no worse for nature, and which preferably improves it.
My Lords, that “collective clunk” took hours of time of the Minister’s department and both Houses of Parliament. Is he saying that, at the stroke of a pen, the Government are going to write off all the environmental protections that we spent hours in this place writing into retained EU law?
No, that is not what we are saying at all. Most of the protections we have are written into law in the Climate Change Act, the Environment Act and many other provisions that no Administration in recent months—of any form—have talked about trying to tamper with. The habitats directive and other measures are very important; we will not be able to hit our 2030 target for no net loss of biodiversity if we were somehow to sweep those away.
So, if we are going to get rid of them, we have got to replace them with something that is meaningful and bespoke for these islands, and that cannot be done overnight. The Government want to hit our target for 2030, our 30by30 target and many other measures that are written into the Environment Act. The directives we have transposed into UK law have got to be dealt with carefully and in a way that results in no net loss of benefit for the environment, preferably improving it.
My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House that the Environment Bill was introduced in July 2018. However, lengthy delays caused not just by consultation responses but by Conservative Party divisions meant that it became law only last November. During its passage, concerns were raised about the lack of targets, and the then Minister assured your Lordships’ House that they would appear by today’s deadline. My noble friend Lady Jones referred to the repeated missed deadlines, and the Government have again failed to deliver. The future of our environment is one of the most pressing issues we face, so why have the Government again broken their promise?
We will be publishing these targets and they will be very much linked to the areas we consulted on: halting the decline of species by 2030; reducing exposure to PM2.5, benefiting health, as the noble Baroness knows it will; helping restore water bodies to their natural state; increasing woodland cover; protecting marine habitats; and setting a clear direction of travel in reducing the amount of waste per person. These are the measures we want to see implemented, and they will be rigorous targets we can meet, not just for this Government but for future Governments. In line with the Act, they will mean that this country is respected for its protection of the environment above all others.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned storm overflows. I wonder if he shares my and many others’ frustration that the water companies continue to discharge dreadful quantities of sewage into our rivers and the sea, using as an excuse the fact that they are storm overflows. What are the Government going to do about that?
As the noble Duke knows, 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 on sewage spills and will require water companies to secure the largest infrastructure programme in water company history: £56 billion of capital investment over the next 25 years. Our plan will protect biodiversity, the ecology of our rivers and seas, and the public health of our water users for generations to come.
My Lords, in answering the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, the Minister appeared rather powerfully to make the case for the Prime Minister’s going to COP 27, so we can only hope that he was listening. I want to go back to an earlier answer from the Minister. He said that the delay occurred because it was important to listen to public concern. Did the response to this consultation really come as a surprise to the department? As the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and many others in this House highlighted, there was enormous public concern about these issues. Why did the department not put enough resources into handling these responses in a timely manner—or does the department not have enough resources to do its job?
Every department could do with more resources. As I said at the beginning, the Government regret not being able to hit this target. Perhaps we were overambitious in thinking it could be done to the timescale we had. There is no point in holding a consultation if you do not listen to the consultees’ replies, and more than 180,000 is at the maximum end of the response to most consultations. That requires that this House and the other place make sure that we are putting in place statutory instruments that really do the job. It is a complex process, and I regret that we have not done it by now, but we will do it as soon as we can.
My Lords, what note have the Government taken of Sir Partha Dasgupta’s report The Economics of Biodiversity, released by Cambridge University, and are they acting on its recommendations? Secondly, why are they not encouraging His Majesty King Charles to attend COP 27? He was ahead of the game by decades.
The Dasgupta review was extraordinary in so many ways: first, because it was the first piece of work on the economics of biodiversity commissioned by a finance department in any country. The Treasury having commissioned it makes it a very powerful tool. It shows that we are talking about not just species that the noble Lord and I have grown up appreciating but the economic future of this country. It is fundamental to what we are talking about; that is why we want evidence-based targets. On the other matter, I refer the noble Lord to the answer I gave to the noble Viscount opposite.
My Lords, the Government seem worried that too many people have responded to this consultation. This deadline was put in at the insistence of Parliament so that Ministers would be held to account. There is another deadline today in the Department for Transport—nothing to do with the Minister—so that is two deadlines missed. All that Ministers can say is, “We’ll ask them to extend the deadline.” That is not good enough. Surely, we have to get a grip on these things; if a Government commit to a deadline, they should keep to it.
I entirely accept that point. I would be treating your Lordships with disrespect if I did not mention the elephant in the room: a bit of mid-air turbulence in recent weeks, which may have somewhat contributed to some of the wheels of government not being correctly oiled. However, I assure the noble Lord that we are determined to deliver proper, meaningful targets as soon as we can.
Exclusivity Terms for Zero Hours Workers (Unenforceability and Redress) Regulations 2022
Trade Marks (Amendment) Regulations 2022
Motions to Approve
Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL]
My Lords, I will take a moment to do one last piece of housekeeping on the state of the Bill. My department has been working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure that they are kept abreast of the Bill’s progress and implications. Two legislative consent memorandums have been lodged with the Senedd Cymru indicating that consent should be given for this Bill. My officials will continue to engage with their colleagues in the Welsh Government and I hope that, by the time the Bill leaves the other place, legislative consent will have been given by the Senedd Cymru.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords on all Benches—noble friends behind me and noble Lords across the House—for their co-operation on this Bill. I view the Bill as essential to bringing much-needed and long-overdue change to the social housing sector—long overdue because it has been more than five years since the Grenfell Tower fire. I thank in particular all members of the Grenfell community, who have pushed so hard and contributed so much in shaping the Bill. I hope it will stand as part of the legacy of Grenfell and play its part in ensuring that such a tragedy never happens again.
It is my sincere hope and belief that the Bill will create a strong and proactive consumer regulation regime that will drive up standards in social housing and help tenants and the Regulator of Social Housing hold landlords to account.
However, it is important that the Government remain open to new ideas from Peers from across the House, and those within the industry. We listen to the points raised by Peers in this Chamber and during valuable meetings between debates. Consequently, we tabled two important amendments. The first gives the regulator powers to set standards for competence and conduct for staff working in social housing. This will ensure that staff have the knowledge, skills and experience to deliver a high-quality service for tenants. I am grateful for the contributions from the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Wilcox of Newport. The second amendment imposes a duty on the regulator to publish and take reasonable steps to implement a plan for regular inspections. The regulator had previously committed to this but I am glad that we have enshrined it in legislation. This will give tenants confidence that landlords will be required to deliver on the standards imposed on them and be held accountable if they do not. Again, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his determination to see this included in the Bill.
Turning now to the amendment on energy efficiency in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I recommit to the House that we will consult on energy efficiency in the sector within six months of the Bill becoming an Act. We continue to support the sector in becoming more energy efficient but remain firm in our belief that this amendment is not the right way to achieve this. However, I must respect the will of this House on this issue and I thank the noble Baroness for bringing what is clearly an important issue to the fore. I thank all Members from the Front Benches opposite and my noble friends here for their wisdom and commitment. Lastly, I thank my noble friend Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist for her support beside me since Committee, which has been invaluable.
I am sure noble Lords will also join me in thanking the Bill team for their engagement, in particular Patrick, Ed, Dan and Elena. I also thank Marcus from my private office and Ruhena, Josh, Matthew, Shayne, Ellen, Richard, Mette, Richenda, Will, Nici and Jim—I hope I have not missed anybody—who have all provided invaluable support to a very rookie Minister with her first Bill. I also extend my thanks to all the policy officials as well as the legal team, ably led by Clare, and to the parliamentary counsel, who worked tirelessly to get this Bill to where it is.
It is important to remember that we are only half way there with the Bill. I wish it a swift journey through the other place, and hope that Members there will debate and consider it in a thoughtful, passionate, detailed and courteous manner, as we have done here. I reassure noble Lords that I remain open to further meetings with them to discuss this important legislation and look forward to picking this up again in what I hope will be a very brief discussion following its passage through the other place. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is a really important Bill and I will briefly say some thank yous. I thank all noble Lords who took part to improve the Bill as it made its passage through this House. I thank, as the Minister did, Grenfell United, Shelter and the residents who suffered most from Grenfell and have worked so hard to bring this new legislation forward, alongside the Government. I thank my noble friend Lady Wilcox for her great support. I also support the Minister; this may have been her first Bill, but we have worked very constructively together and I thank her for her approach to the Bill, her approach to the House and for her time and that of her officials.
My Lords, I had better remind the House of my relevant local government interests, as set out in the register. Throughout the Bill, we have supported its purpose. We have simply worked hard to try to make what we believed were essential improvements. Of course, in the area of energy efficiency, the amendment from my group was accepted by the Government and the Minister. I know that housing campaigns across the country were very pleased that it was accepted as a key priority for the regulator.
I thank the Minister for coming in at the deep end, taking on the Bill, and being so helpful in enabling pre-reading discussions on it and amendments that we wished to table. It always eases the path of a Bill if we can do that. I therefore look forward to the next time, when we might also be able to work together constructively for the benefit of people out there.
I record my thanks to the Grenfell Tower campaigners. Despite the terrible tragedy that they experienced, they have never faltered over the last five years in their determination to see action on improving social housing. Here we have a Bill that should make social housing safer and fairer for tenants. I look forward to it coming back unamended from the other end.
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 7th and 12th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 6th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, before we proceed with this Committee, can we be assured that there is not a plan to alter radically or even withdraw the Bill? Your Lordships will remember that with the Energy Security Bill we all put in weeks of work, as did the Government and everybody else, only for the whole Bill to be scrapped. It would be nice now to know whether we are going ahead with a Bill that will be pursued and not altered or scrapped as well.
My Lords, I believe it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to put the Question to the House and perhaps allow the matters which have been raised by the noble Lord and potentially by others to be discussed when there is a question before the House. The Question is that the House do now again resolve itself into a Committee upon the Bill.
Clause 2: Limitation of general implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol
4: Clause 2, page 1, line 17, at end insert—
“(A1) This section is subject to section (Limitation of general implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol: approval of Northern Ireland Assembly).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is linked to Baroness Suttie’s new Clause after Clause 2 (Limitation of general implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol: approval of Northern Ireland Assembly).
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 5, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, as well as to Amendments 68 and 69.
These amendments aim to require the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly before the measures contained in the Bill can be used to limit the general implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Clearly, we are debating these amendments against the backdrop of the 28 October deadline having been missed and the continued absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as the continued stalemate, with the DUP refusing to allow the Assembly to function since the elections in May of this year.
It is very hard not to feel deeply frustrated and indeed angry on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. The lack of an Assembly and functioning Northern Ireland Executive has meant for ordinary people across Northern Ireland a deteriorating healthcare system, a lack of strategic economic planning, and little or no progress on legacy matters or on issues such as developing an integrated education system. The stop-start nature of devolution over the last 25 years in Northern Ireland has meant that we have seen only fleeting periods of stable government there, and the Government’s attempts to overcome their own internal divisions since 2016 have been at the expense of the people of Northern Ireland.
These amendments are therefore primarily probing in nature and aim to set out important matters of principle. As a strong believer in the principle of devolution, I think it is quite wrong that the Government are proceeding with this Bill in the absence of proper consultation and consent from the majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly. In paragraph 24 of the Explanatory Notes, the Government state their intention
“to seek consent from the Northern Ireland Assembly as soon as possible.”
In its recent report on this Bill, the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House stated:
“The need for consent from the devolved legislatures is important given the delicate nature of the Northern Ireland Protocol, particularly in light of the current political situation in Northern Ireland. We are concerned that enacting the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill without legislative consent will exacerbate tensions and ill will within the Union.”
The Minister will be aware that, in June, 52 of the 90 MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly signed a letter to the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stating their clear opposition to this Bill. They said:
“We reject in the strongest possible terms your Government’s reckless new Protocol legislation, which flies in the face of the expressed wishes of not just most businesses, but most people in Northern Ireland.”
Ultimately, we know that the decision to press ahead with this Bill is a political choice made by this Government to rectify their decision to sign up to the Northern Ireland protocol in the first place. It is true that, in their haste to get Brexit done, the Government did not give enough consideration to the sensitivities of the unionist community, in particular the DUP. Let us be clear: the protocol was no one’s first choice but, again, the Government put the interests of the Conservative Party ahead of those of the people of Northern Ireland. However, in realising their error and pressing ahead with this Bill, the Government have now vastly overcompensated and appear not to be listening to either the business community or the majority view in Northern Ireland.
Under normal circumstances—not something we have seen very much of recently—the impact of these amendments would be to strengthen the authority of the Northern Ireland Assembly. They would mean that changes to the protocol could happen only if they had the agreement of the democratically elected MLAs. One could even hope, perhaps in vain, that this would prove an incentive to the DUP. The current stalemate is utterly unacceptable and can be resolved only through genuine negotiations in Brussels and proper consultation with all political parties in Northern Ireland.
In concluding, I ask the Minister to set out what constructive engagement will now take place on this Bill with those who do not want to see it implemented; they are the majority in Northern Ireland. In the continued absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, how will the Government keep the political parties in Northern Ireland informed of the progress, or otherwise, of the negotiations? I beg to move.
My Lords, I am absolutely delighted to add my name to this suite of amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie.
These amendments clearly have a specific purpose. First, I believe that full recognition needs to be given by your Lordships’ House and the UK Government that the Good Friday agreement is the bedrock upon which all institutions are based and out of which they emerged. It includes three strands: the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive; north/south; and east/west.
Devolved structures and the power of the MLAs must be recognised, acknowledged and reflected, and their mandate must be so acknowledged. They must be allowed to have an accountability role. If this Bill becomes law and results in the limitation of the protocol, your Lordships should remember, as the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, that a majority of MLAs elected in early May wrote to the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, indicating their opposition to the provisions in the Bill.
It is important, as I said, that the UK Government recognise that the majority of Assembly Members support the protocol, with refinements. They believe, as I do, that mitigations are required and, most importantly, they want the restoration of political institutions, particularly after Friday’s very odd press conference, given by the Secretary of State in the middle of Chichester Street in Belfast with onlookers walking past. An election will serve no purpose whatever. We would probably end up with a more polarised outcome in Northern Ireland and it will not have served its purpose.
The view of Assembly Members was also reflected in a recent poll by Queen’s University Belfast, which stated that 51% think that the protocol is having a positive impact on the Northern Ireland economy. Immediately we see the evidence of our divided society in Northern Ireland—63% think that it offers opportunities that could benefit Northern Ireland and 60% think the same about its impact on British-Irish relations. There is a fear that the UK Government are not operating or proposing a consensual approach through this Bill and are recognising only the views of unionists. Arrangements work in Northern Ireland only when they have the buy-in of unionists, nationalists and the non-aligned, and that is not possible under the provisions of the Bill.
We have no political structures operating at the moment, with no impetus from the Government to have them up and running. I hope that this week’s discussions between the Secretary of State, the political parties and the Irish Government will produce better outcomes and a better trajectory of travel. People do not want direct rule; they want their own Government.
Elections will not provide the answer, as the default legal position allows. Designation of Joint First Ministers should have been allowed. That would have obviated many of the problems currently being experienced. I hope that if there are negotiations and there is a review of the institutions, this issue comes back into; the Minister will recall this item being discussed in debates on the Elections Bill. It is worth noting that, very sadly, institutions have operated only at a very low percentage in the last 24 years. There is a need to end the inherent sectarianism that was ushered in by the St Andrews agreement in 2006-07.
It is also important to remember that the poll from Queen’s University told us that 65% of the Northern Ireland Assembly agree that the Northern Ireland Executive should be fully functioning regardless of what happens with the protocol, while 32% disagree. Broadly, these figures represent the political support and opposition in the Assembly in relation to the protocol.
The protocol should not have prevented the restoration of all the institutions. Noble Lords will become very angry when they realise that there are important issues for many people, such as the cost of living, the cost of doing business, and health waiting lists and getting on to these. It is worth noting that, at the evidence session during the protocol sub-committee’s visit to Belfast two weeks ago, young people who were there as community representatives viewed health waiting lists and the cost of living as much more important than the protocol.
The bottom line is therefore that the GFA standard, in all its strands, must be adhered to and protected. The pathway to that includes the need for all-party talks to resolve the outstanding issues. Rather than having a potential election, there must be renewed vigour in the UK-EU negotiations on the protocol, not only on the technical aspects but with the political negotiations that are urgently required. My fear is that any election process could stop the political negotiations. There has been a renewed focus on the technical, and it is important that renewed focus is given to the political.
I support the amendments in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. I urge the support of your Lordships’ Committee. The accountability mechanisms in the Northern Ireland Assembly must be recognised and adhered to if this Bill is passed. They must be given their say, because the vast majority of Assembly Members elected do not agree with this Bill. They would prefer that it were not on the table and that the Government removed it.
My Lords, Harold Macmillan, that great Tory Prime Minister, had a quotation on his desk or wall—I forget which—by WS Gilbert:
“Quiet, calm deliberation disentangles every knot.”
If there were ever a need for this, it is now, on the issue of the Northern Ireland protocol: a treaty negotiated by a British Prime Minister and one of his colleagues, who is present this afternoon; commended to both Houses of Parliament; and given support—with a degree of reluctance, because many of us realised that it was far from perfect.
I understand why my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford made the brief point he made before he left the Chamber. I believe that we are wasting our time in a prodigal fashion. To quote the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, many years ago, the Bill is not fit for purpose. It never will be, however many amendments we pass on the Floor of your Lordships’ House.
We have all agreed that there will be no call for Divisions in Committee. Colleagues on both sides of the Committee know that I would have liked to have a vote to pause proceedings at Second Reading. However, it was conveyed to me that the Labour Opposition were not prepared to support that, and it would not have been right for me to go ahead when I clearly did not have strong support in all parts of the House.
We are now in an Alice in Wonderland situation where a series of amendments—the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, moved her amendment eloquently and persuasively—are not going to change the fundamental nature of the Bill; they are not going to make it acceptable. So this charade is going to continue through today and two more days, and then the Bill will go to its Report stage. I beg my noble friends on the Front Bench: for goodness’ sake, pause it there at least, so that negotiations can take place without any implicit threats over our European friends and neighbours. I deliberately and repeatedly call for that. Let us have those negotiations, and let us hope that they are entered into in good faith on the both sides.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, is right that we all accept that alterations should be made, although those who enthusiastically presented this to us as the answer to all our problems at the time did not think there were any alterations to be made, and frankly did treat the DUP with a cavalier disregard over which it is entitled to feel somewhat aggrieved—but let us calm it, let us pause it, as soon as possible. Let negotiations be conducted in a spirit of reciprocity, and then I do not think there will be any need for any sort of legislation. That would be an ideal situation, and it would echo the fundamental desire of a majority of people in Northern Ireland, the majority of elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly, certainly a majority of those engaged in industry and commerce in Northern Ireland and, if my postbag is anything to go by, a majority of people even with a strong unionist inclination.
I am not going to make repeated speeches on this Bill because there is no point. Let the Government see that there is no point. Let us draw it to a convenient and seemly close as soon as possible, have the negotiations and, if I am entirely wrong, then perhaps there will be a case for coming back. But we are wasting your Lordships’ time. It would be far better to be having on the Floor of the House today consideration of the Bill on free speech which is taking place in the Moses Room, on which I cannot take part because I cannot be in two places at once and in which I would like to be taking part. So let us pause it. It would be in the interests of our country, as well as in the interests of the new Government and, most of all, in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland if we did that.
My Lords, I rise to support these amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Suttie and signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and I thank both of them for the way they have introduced them. This is a Foreign Office Bill, but its implications are vital for the people of Northern Ireland and for the people of the United Kingdom, because it is a political Bill which is dangerous in terms of what the Government are playing with.
At the heart of the protocol is the debate about unfettered access to both the UK market and the EU single market. Of course, unfettered access to both those markets is what we had before we left the European Union, and leaving that Union inevitably led to a situation where an open border between the UK, GB, Northern Ireland and the EU is not compatible with the agreement post leaving the EU. That is clearly the source of the problem—but everybody knew that at the time when the agreement was struck and signed, including the UK Government and Northern Ireland politicians. However, on the face of it, from all the implications that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, quoted, there is a clear majority for moving on—not for setting aside the protocol or, by implication, the trade and co-operation agreement or, frankly, the Bill to repeal EU law, when we have sweated for the past several years to transfer that EU law into UK law.
Do the Government really want to provoke a trade war when our economy is in such a fragile condition? The Prime Minister says, and I agree, that we are facing a profound economic crisis. Is tearing up the protocol more or less likely to alleviate this or help recovery in Northern Ireland? The issue, therefore, is surely not how to achieve the minimal friction. We all agree that we want minimal friction; we want as free access as we can get. The issue is not how to achieve it but how we can get it to the lowest compatible level for business to carry on with minimal cost and delay.
The case for consulting the Northern Ireland Assembly is overwhelming. Not least, it is not just a matter of the numbers. The whole point of legislatures is that they are where compromises can be negotiated and struck; where the balance can be found. And there is the rub. The DUP insists that the Irish Sea border must go. As I have said, it would of course be ideal to have no borders, but that would be inconsistent with being outside the single market and the customs union. So a low-friction agreement on implementation of the protocol appears to be the answer, appears to have wide support and could surely be negotiated with good will on all sides.
Unfortunately, as I understand it—and I would be happy to be contradicted when the DUP enters the debate—the DUP is insisting on what it knows to be an impossible solution: no borders. The party has said that, unless it gets that solution, it will never re-enter the Assembly or the Executive. The Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement—is a power-sharing arrangement between the largest nationalist and largest unionist grouping. It is not a majoritarian arrangement, as the DUP rightly insists on telling us—but nor is it a never-ending veto. To share power is to seek and find compromise. Refusal to do so is to deny the spirit and probably the letter of the agreement. It is to deny democracy. Most important of all, it is to deny the people of Northern Ireland the delivery of essential services that they require and that they voted for—and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, they desperately want solutions to be addressed.
So we are facing the prospect of a fresh election. I do not think anybody wants an election, and nor does anybody believe that it is likely to make a huge difference; it will not change much. I hope that it might further strengthen the Alliance but, on the whole, it is not likely to make a huge difference. If the DUP, before or after the election, blocks any compromise—I repeat, any compromise—is it not time to reconsider the arrangement? I have already said that power sharing requires compromise. Should refusing to compromise question the right to share power? Is it not time for some hard consideration of the rights of the people of Northern Ireland—their rights to have a functioning Government, to move forward and to have a solution that is based on reality, not fantasy?
I support the amendment, so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for a simple reason. It relates to what is frequently called the “democratic deficit”—a phrase that often finds itself in the mouths of those who support this Bill, among whom I am not numbered. They talk about the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland mainly in respect of the fact that the people of Northern Ireland do not have a say over the legislation for the single market, which will be passed in Brussels. They erroneously say that that is the only place in Europe where that happens. That is untrue; it is the same for Norway, which has no say over legislation passed in Brussels but accepts it when it is sent through on a fax. So the use of the words “democratic deficit” by the supporters of the Bill is in any case a bit erroneous. It is even more erroneous when you consider that the people of the Northern Ireland actually voted to remain in the European Union; that surely is something of a democratic deficit.
These amendments, which I imagine the Minister will explain the Government cannot support, are also an attempt to address the democratic deficit, to say that the people of Northern Ireland collectively should have some say in the operation of this deeply flawed legislation. So why will the Government oppose it? We know why: because a majority of Members of the Assembly who were elected in May have said they do not want any of it, and that would not be helpful to the Government’s objectives. When you bandy around phrases such as “democratic deficit”, you should follow them through to their logical conclusion, and that logical conclusion is in the amendments that the House is now debating.
My Lords, the amendments would subject aspects of the Bill to the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, my contention is that they will work only if preceded by a prior vote on the protocol itself in accordance with the standards of cross-community consent put in place for the controversial matters set out by the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
The Good Friday agreement is now very vulnerable because of the approach of the European Union in relation to two key principles at the heart of it. First, the Good Friday agreement is predicated on a commitment to affording the interests of both communities parity of esteem. The interests of unionism have not been afforded parity of esteem vis-à-vis those of nationalism with respect to the protocol. While the protocol represents an existential threat to all that unionists hold dear and is rejected by all the unionist parties, it authenticates that which nationalists and republicans desire: the breaking of the UK economy. Secondly, the Good Friday agreement is predicated on a commitment to non-majoritarian politics, which means that controversial decisions have to be made on the basis of cross-community consent. Again, that has been cast aside.
In the first instance, the EU sought to pressure the UK Government into the protocol without affording Northern Ireland any say in the matter, notwithstanding the fact that the effect of the protocol is to slash the value of the Northern Ireland vote, as 300 areas of lawmaking to which we are subject are taken from us and made by a legislature of a foreign power. When the EU finally agreed that the Northern Ireland Assembly should be given some say in the matter, it insisted for some bizarre reason that it should happen four years afterwards. It made provision for it to continue for at least another four years without cross-community support, resulting in eight years of government outside the confines of the Belfast agreement, which could of course continue indefinitely with regular four-year extensions.
That is the height of irony because anyone who studies democracy will know that leading academics in the field, such as Professor Arend Lijphart, are very clear that the EU is one of the most consensual, non-majoritarian polities in the world today. That the EU decided to betray its own commitment to non-majoritarianism by going out of its way to impose majoritarianism on a polity that it knew was based on non-majoritarianism is quite extraordinary.
This is a major problem not just for the Good Friday agreement but for the protocol. The protocol subjects itself to the Belfast agreement in all its dimensions through Articles 1 and 2. That is a problem for those who wish to argue that international law constrains those seeking to address the clear injustices of the Northern Ireland protocol, because Article 3 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties is very clear that:
“When a treaty specifies that it is subject to … an earlier or later treaty, the provisions of that other treaty prevail.”
Given that the convention also sets out mechanisms, such as Article 56(1)(b), whereby a state party can lawfully and unilaterally withdraw from a treaty, the refusal of the EU to amend the protocol so that it is properly brought into line with the prior treaty clearly gives grounds for our withdrawal.
We now find ourselves in a very difficult situation, where not only have the Government of Northern Ireland departed from the Belfast/Good Friday agreement but, because of this, a new arrangement has been permitted to develop that would never have come to pass had the Belfast agreement been respected. In this context, it is not appropriate to respond to the protocol as a given and to ask the Northern Ireland Assembly to agree, as the amendments before us now suggest, to any change.
If we are to engage the Northern Ireland Assembly and save the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, we have first to ask the more basic question of whether the Northern Ireland Assembly will consent to the protocol. If the Assembly endorses the protocol on the basis of cross-community consent, in line with the Belfast agreement, then it would be appropriate to move on to the votes mandated in these amendments. However, if the Assembly does not support the protocol on the basis of cross-community consent, in line with the Belfast agreement, and the surrendering of the right to elect legislators making laws to which the people of Northern Ireland are subject in some 300 different areas, then the protocol should fall away.
Whatever happens, we have to re-embrace the discipline of the Good Friday agreement and the subjection of the protocol to that prior treaty, courtesy of Articles 1 and 2 of the protocol, if we are to celebrate 25 years of the Good Friday agreement come April.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Suttie in her amendments. Notwithstanding the appeal from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, these Benches do not need to be persuaded of his arguments. We are nevertheless tasked with scrutinising and testing this legislation, and I support my noble friend’s amendments.
I want to ask the Minister just two simple questions relating to the Sewel convention, which is now recognised as a constitutional principle. Michael Ellis, speaking on behalf of the Government in Committee in the Commons, was asked about legislative consent of this Bill. He said:
“As the hon. Member for North Down will be aware, the Sewel convention applies to this Bill, as it does to all Bills of this Parliament that intersect with devolved competence. I confirm that in the absence of functioning institutions, senior officials in the Foreign Office have already made contact with the head of the Northern Ireland civil service regarding legislative consent … The Government will consult stakeholders in Northern Ireland, including Members of the Assembly, on the operation of the Bill during its passage and thereafter”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/7/22; cols. 385-86.]
What did the officials ask of the civil servants with regard to legislative consent in the absence of there being an Assembly? This is not a practice that has ever been seen anywhere else for the operation of the Sewel Motion. Which Members of the Assembly have been consulted during the passage of this Bill, and on what? Have they been asked, with regard to the dual regulatory regime that the Bill proposes, and what have their responses been so far?
My Lords, I rise to put a technical point. I am not sure of the answer—it is a genuine question—but it bears on the amendment. Trade is a reserved matter in Northern Ireland. When there was first sight of Theresa May’s protocol, there was great rage in Northern Ireland. People in Northern Ireland were told, “Sorry, this is a reserved matter.” Subsequently—it was the second iteration—it was very much the view of the noble Lord, Lord Frost, that that was not itself a satisfactory answer, and there is provision in the protocol negotiated by the Johnson Government. The one significant change is to make, in very specific circumstances, a role for the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is probably the major difference between the two protocols. However, if it is a reserved matter—if that was the answer that I remember being given throughout 2017 and 2018 in this House—I cannot quite see the purchase of these amendments.
If it is a reserved matter, it is a reserved matter. It is for this Parliament to deal with these trade matters. The burden of the Bill is in dealing with Articles 5 and 10 of the protocol—not those on human rights and so on—in a way which, I accept, many Members of this House do not like. None the less, it does not seem appropriate to be raising these issues now about that role for the Northern Ireland Assembly, because trade is a reserved matter held by this House.
The history of this is perfectly clear: the Government of Ireland Act 1920 has language on trade, as do the prior Acts of Union 1800. Then there were modifications to the Government of Ireland Act—benign modernisations, I would say—under the Good Friday agreement and the legislation that went through this House, which left us with trade as a reserved matter. It seems to me that this should be taken into account. There may be some possible answer to it, and the noble Lord, Lord Frost, has negotiated a possible way that one might work around it, but trade is a reserved matter at this point. We are not concerned with the human rights provisions of the protocol and so on; they are not the issue in the Bill. It is directed mainly against Articles 5 and 10, rightly or wrongly—wrongly, I am sure many colleagues on my own Benches think—but trade being a reserved matter is a problem for amendments of this sort.
I agree that external trade is a reserved matter, but here we are talking about trade inside the United Kingdom—as well as trade inside the single market of the European Union, of course. I do not think it follows at all that one can say there is no role for the Assembly because external trade is a reserved matter.
I would love to support the amendment in the names of the two noble Baronesses. I agree with the spirit of it. It is extraordinary how, throughout this saga, things have been done to Northern Ireland without Northern Ireland being fully consulted or even informed. It is extraordinary, when you think about it, that the protocol was concluded without the involvement—I want to embarrass him now—of the noble Lord, Lord Caine, who knows far more about these issues than most of us do and has a judgment that we would all respect. That should have been brought to bear.
I hesitate to criticise the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who is busy with his emails, but, if he would like to listen, I will criticise him. It would have been good if he had found the ability to spend more time in Northern Ireland while he was negotiating. It would have been great if his master, the then Prime Minister, had been able to spend some time trying to understand the issues and seeing people on the ground, but it is an astonishing fact that Michel Barnier had more direct personal experience of Northern Ireland than the noble Lord, Lord Frost, had. That was because Barnier had spent time there doing jobs for previous presidents of the Commission.
I feel that the syndrome of imposing things on Northern Ireland, perhaps under cover of talk about reserved matters, which I disagree with, has been damaging to the United Kingdom and, of course, to Northern Ireland. I would love to support these amendments, and of course I would do so. But it would not make an illegal act less illegal if the Northern Ireland Assembly voted for it, so what are we talking about here?
I caused the Minister to look askance when I said that we are talking about a pig of a Bill. The Minister thought that was an indelicate reference. However, what we are doing here is trying to put lipstick on the pig. It will still be a pig even if this amendment is approved. If it were put to a vote, of course I would vote for it, but my general feeling is that we know what we have to do with this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has correctly pointed out that what we are engaged in now is a waste of time because I am confident that at the end of the day, we will do what we have to do to this Bill. I hope the end of the day comes soon.
My Lords, for a number of years I was shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I have not been involved in recent political discussions in the Province. In a sense, I have come back to the subject afresh today. It certainly keeps all its fascination. We have just heard two immensely important contributions to the debate by the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Bew. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, dealt clearly, decisively and definitively with whether or not trade is a reserved matter. We must be grateful for that analysis, which I hope will guide us in dealing with this Bill.
The Bill is an extraordinarily unpopular document, is it not? It is quite difficult to find anybody really prepared to defend it. The DUP is obviously very much opposed to it. We have heard this afternoon from people who are close to the DUP’s leadership. The European Commission has launched infringement procedures in relation to the British Government’s activity over this Bill. The British Government do not seem to be very convinced of the virtues of the Bill. Certainly no one this afternoon has made a strong defence of the Bill.
Against that background, I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. It is quite unlikely that the DUP will do a U-turn; it would be a humiliating thing to do. Therefore, one must assume that the Bill in its present form does not have very far to go. That is not surprising because—and the reason I really oppose this Bill—it seems contrary to the essence of parliamentary democracy. The principle which underlines our whole system in this country is that the law must be made by the legislature—the legally elected representatives of the public. It is their responsibility to make laws; it is not the responsibility of the Government to make laws, nor is it desirable that they should try to do so.
Many of the provisions in this controversial protocol Bill reveal that there is an ambition for the Government to rewrite the law themselves. I look at the overview of the Bill in the very helpful summary produced by the Library. It says that one of the purposes is
“giving ministers delegated powers to make new provision in domestic law ‘in connection with’ ‘excluded provision’”;
in other words, the Bill declares itself as being in the business of making law and imposing it on the public, which is quite contrary to all democratic principles, and we should be quite upset about it.
This is something which has disfigured European history in the last 100 years. A number of people, from Mussolini to Hitler to Marshal Pétain, have adopted this course of deciding to get through an assembly, which would be reasonably compliant, a Bill entitling the Government to write the law themselves in the future. That is what happens to democracies if they are under that kind of attack. We should not in any way be party to that.
The House of Lords Library’s summary of the situation makes it clear that, in this case, the executive branch is deciding to write law and change international treaties more or less at the drop of a hat. That is obviously not something that anyone in this House could tolerate, and we should therefore think about this extremely carefully before it proceeds. We should make it absolutely clear that the Government cannot get away with asking for power in an enabling Act to simply write the future statute—not making this clear would be contrary to what we should do in this place.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie, on their amendment. I associate myself with the remarks about the democratic deficit problems that have arisen in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit. Many of us in this House have always believed that a hard Brexit was incompatible with the Good Friday agreement. However, the Government assured the people of Northern Ireland and this Parliament that the Northern Ireland protocol was the answer to ensuring that Brexit would work with the Good Friday agreement. It clearly imposed a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as the impact assessment explained. The problems that have arisen do not seem due to the intransigence of the EU; they are inherent in the protocol.
Brexit is yet another example of how, for so long—decades and decades—Britain has imposed things on the people of Northern Ireland and, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, done things to Northern Ireland, rather than working with the people there. But that is not a reason for our Government, shortly after signing the protocol, to say, “We don’t like it. We don’t like ECJ oversight or the EU deciding what it considers a risk to its single market. We must do that”, and then expecting the EU simply to accept that, in contravention of our signature on an agreement and of what was promised to the people of Northern Ireland.
Clearly, there is an issue. I hope my noble friend can explain how removing ECJ oversight and allowing the UK Government to assess risks to the single market will make hard Brexit work for all of the parties in Northern Ireland, not just the DUP.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, made a powerful—emotional, to some extent—speech last week and it certainly resonated with me. To a large extent, that has been reflected in the contributions so far, acknowledging that things have been done to Northern Ireland. Of course, when we consider what was done to Northern Ireland in relation to this protocol, it is right to remember that the then Prime Minister went to the DUP party conference and assured it that it was “oven ready”. In an aside, he also said, “Don’t worry about the paperwork”. Perhaps the DUP was overconfident in relying upon the word of the former Prime Minister: what has happened since has exploded the idea that what was in the protocol would somehow cover all circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, referred to the most helpful Library briefing, which says on page 50 that Article 16 is a “safeguard” mechanism. Are we looking for safeguards? Yes, of course we are. It allows either party to take temporary
“measures if the application of the Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist”.
On the attitude being taken by the DUP, what better definition can we have than this expression that embraces its concerns—almost exactly and in detail? It goes on to say that the “diversion of trade” is an issue that would justify reference to Article 16.
It seems that Article 16 has been rejected by the Government. I have never really heard a proper argument for why that should be the case. I will put it this way: if Article 16 does not cover what we are about today, when will it ever be of any relevance? This question would give an answer, though perhaps not one that would suit the DUP in every respect. Should Article 16 be invoked, an answer to this question would go a long way to helping those—including me—concerned about anything that might have the effect of undermining the Belfast agreement.
I think we will have a discussion later this week in this House about trade arrangements, so I will repeat a point I made in the last debate: the trade arrangements that were held in front of all our noses were those to be made with the United States. They were going to remedy any difficulties or subtractions that we might experience if we left the European Union. However, nothing much has happened with that. As I said then—I say it again now—we forget the extent to which the politics of the United States, as they affect us domestically in both Houses and across both sides of the aisle, are influenced by their attitudes towards Ireland. It seems that, so long as we have this unresolved issue, the prospects for a trade agreement are pretty remote. For this reason, I ask the DUP why Article 16 is not enough for it, and I ask the Government to give us a coherent explanation of why they are not willing to invoke it. At the very least, by invoking it, we would be able to test it.
My Lords, it is indeed a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, with whom I had the honour of serving alongside for many years in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I understand that he continues to serve there with great distinction, so it is a pleasure to hear what he has to say.
On the issue of Article 16, I say with the greatest of respect: I well remember that, when this was being discussed and advocated by us and others, there was agreement that some of the articles in the Northern Ireland protocol should be suspended. Article 16 was absolutely opposed tooth and nail by the vast bulk of everybody, not just in Northern Ireland on the nationalist side but both here in this House and in the other place. In the last debate, I quoted statements from leading members of what was then Her Majesty’s Opposition, including the Liberal Democrat Benches—as well as others on the Conservative Benches—who were vociferous and vehement in their opposition to any notion of the implementation of Article 16. The Irish Government went so far as to say that it would completely upend the Belfast agreement, which seems to be the chosen form of words when something is proposed that is not liked. I hear with interest what noble Lords are saying now about Article 16, but that certainly was not what was being said a few months ago. Noble Lords should look back in Hansard to what the situation actually was. The reality is that Article 16—whether or not it was invoked—was not going to solve all the problems.
Other Members have had their say so I am going to proceed in terms of my speech.
The amendment before us from the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie, has the intent of saying that the Bill’s operative clauses should not proceed unless there is approval from the Northern Ireland Assembly. I note, however, that this is not by cross-community vote. What is fascinating about people who defend and say they are defending the Belfast agreement—as amended by St Andrews, of course—is that they say, “Let’s give a vote to the Northern Ireland Assembly”. Regardless of whether or not it is reserved, the fact is that you are giving a power to the Assembly, and the Assembly in Northern Ireland operates by cross-community vote: there must be a majority of unionists, a majority of nationalists and an overall majority for all major pieces of legislation to pass. If it is subject to a majority vote, it can be turned into a cross-community vote by a petition of concern. Yet, uniquely, the proponents of the Belfast agreement only ever want to give a vote on the protocol issues to the Northern Ireland Assembly without a cross-community vote. So, if we are going to be consistent about defending the Belfast agreement and the institutions thereof, this amendment should include provision for a cross-community vote.
The other big flaw of course is that there is no such requirement for the absolute implementation of the protocol itself. I pointed out that Article 50 of the joint declaration in December 2017, signed by the EU and the United Kingdom Government, said that there could be no regulatory difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom unless it was by a cross-community vote of the Assembly and the Executive in Northern Ireland. So that is what should be the priority. As my noble friend Lord Browne said, there needs to be a prior step before we go down this route, which is to ask whether the protocol has the assent of the Northern Ireland Assembly on the basis of the Assembly’s decision-making powers, which are by cross-community vote.
It has also been said that the democratic deficit argument is not valid because there are other countries that have no say in laws that govern them. Norway was cited. Of course, Norway is a member of the European Economic Area but is not a member of the customs union, so it does not have EU customs laws applied to it in the way that Northern Ireland has. That is a significant difference. But the other major difference is this: the whole of Norway is a member of the single market. Northern Ireland is separated out from the rest of the United Kingdom, so one part of the United Kingdom is subject to EU laws while the rest goes its own way, making its own laws and being free to make its own decisions. Given that Northern Ireland does more trade with the rest of the United Kingdom than with the rest of the world, Europe and the Republic of Ireland put together, that makes no sense whatever. So it is entirely wrong to suggest, “Oh, well, there’s no difference between Northern Ireland and places like Norway”—there is a world of difference. I am surprised that that has not been noted.
Then we have the argument that it is the Government who have set out the position as to what needs to be done in relation to the protocol and putting it right. They issued a Command Paper in July 2021 and have now published this Bill. A lot of it is good in terms of restoring democratic control over laws that apply to Northern Ireland; it goes some way to rectifying that, although it does not do everything that we would like. Then we are told that if the DUP do not get on board with this—the Government’s proposals—then somehow the rules for power sharing in Northern Ireland should be cast aside. Again, I ask defenders of the Belfast agreement: where are you when people say, “Let’s just do away with the cross-community mechanisms and go for majority voting”? We have not had majority rule in Northern Ireland for over 50 years.
But when people talk about the Assembly not functioning for a large bulk of the period since the Belfast agreement, remember that between 2003 and 2007 it was down because of the actions of Sinn Féin and its military wing, the IRA, in robbing the Northern Bank. The Government rightly insisted that it would have to give up its weaponry before it could be considered fit to have a place in the Government of Northern Ireland. For four years—and between 2017 and 2020, again Sinn Féin kept the Assembly down and boycotted the Executive—would not agree to re-form it—on the issue of language and culture. But, as soon as there is any suggestion that the DUP insists on the democratic rights of people in Northern Ireland to be treated in the same way as other citizens of the United Kingdom, to have their say and vote on laws that affect them, we have the defenders, it appears, of the Belfast agreement saying, “No, let’s jettison all that, let’s change the rules”. Well, I am afraid that really is a recipe for disaster.
The fact of the matter is that yes, we have had this 28 October deadline pass, and whether there is an election called or not, it appears to be something that is only in the mind of the current Secretary of State who has succeeded, I have to say, in uniting everybody in Northern Ireland, and across all parties here, in bamboozling the entire polity in Northern Ireland as to what on earth is going on, or what the thinking or rationale is. The DUP does not seek an election in Northern Ireland—no party does—but we do not fear an election; we have absolutely no difficulty about putting our position and our case to the people of Northern Ireland, and we will see who speaks for unionists, and we will see who speaks for a large section of the community in Northern Ireland.
As I say, we do not seek an election, we do not think an election will do any good, we think that it will be polarising and divisive and will not forward the case for finding the solutions that need to be found—but if it happens, so be it. But I would urge the Secretary of State, whatever he has decided, to get on and announce it, and stop the current limbo situation. Are we going to respect the Sewel convention? It has been disrespected with the support of some Members who have spoken here today in relation to imposing abortion laws, which are matters for the Northern Ireland Assembly—that has been disrespected. It has been disrespected in relation to the culture and identity Bill, which I just referred to, because that again is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly—but many noble Lords were content to push that through, regardless of the views of the Assembly.
But what I would say is that, if you are going to give the Assembly a say on these matters, then respect the Belfast agreement. Why change it? Give it a cross-community vote. What is the problem with that? I humbly say that, when it came to the protocol itself, all of those safeguards were of course jettisoned, and we need therefore to go back to the rationale for this Bill. Whether it is through the Bill or new negotiations, we have got to get to a situation where we have a position which both unionists and nationalists can support in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I am not going to comment on the politics of Northern Ireland—I am a mere lawyer—but the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, raised a particular point on Article 16, and the answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, as I understood him, was that there were discussions about that, and statements were made at various times by various politicians. But the fact of the matter is that Article 16 is part of the protocol; it cannot be ignored.
What it says is that it provides a procedure for dealing with
“serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade”.
It is a very broad concept; it provides a means by which such disputes can be resolved and, as I have said before in debates on this Bill, I simply do not understand how the test of “necessity” in international law can be satisfied when the Government have available, and are not using, a provision that is expressly provided in the protocol. You simply cannot resile from an international agreement because of problems when the protocol itself, the international agreement, provides a means of addressing them; it is as simple as that.
There is one other legal point. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, deserves an answer. He rightly emphasised that Articles 1 and 2 of the protocol preserve the Belfast agreement in various respects, upholding and emphasising it. As I understood it, his argument is that the Bill is consistent with international law because the protocol, in his view, undermines the Belfast agreement. However, if I may respectfully say so, there is an insuperable difficulty with that argument: this country signed the protocol on the basis of the view that the protocol was consistent with the Belfast agreement in the context of the difficult problems posed by Brexit.
Having signed the agreement, with respect, it is trite as a matter of international law that the United Kingdom cannot unilaterally resile from the protocol because, under political pressure, it now wishes to take a different view. Therefore, this Bill, as I have suggested before, is quite simply inconsistent with international law.
My Lords, I appreciate that I am a relative newcomer to this House, but I had understood that in Committee discussion is supposed to focus on the amendments before us. What I have heard today is very much a rerun of the discussion we heard in this place last week, with repeated invocations of issues of principle around this Bill and the protocol, which are extremely important but might not be resolved in this debate simply by repeating the points over and over.
I have been trying to follow the detail of this on my electronic device, with my documents in front of me—I know the technique may not be familiar to everybody in this House, but I am trying my best. I was not intending to speak but, as some points of principle have been raised, I feel it is right to put certain circumstances on record.
I will make three brief points. First, I feel we are having a highly abstract discussion about a very concrete and real situation. Noble Lords all know what is happening in Northern Ireland at the moment and what has happened over the last year and in recent months: the constant, gradual deterioration of the real political situation in Northern Ireland, the undermining of the institutions of the Good Friday agreement, and the degradation of some of the habits of co-operation and working together that we have seen over the years. This is a real situation, which must be dealt with. This Bill is a way of dealing with it and the Government—rightly, in my view—believe it is the best way of doing so.
We have to engage with that. We have to take real-life action to deal with the problems that exist on the ground in Northern Ireland. Important though discussions of international law and a reinvocation of why we signed this agreement may be, they do not deal with the real situation on the ground now. The Government are the Government of this country, and they are right to put forward proposals that deal with this situation. The best way to deal with it would be to expedite this Bill, not to delay, defer or withdraw it. The best contributor to stability in Northern Ireland would be to get this on the statute book and enable people to know what they are dealing with.
No other noble Lords have taken interventions, so I will complete my points if I may.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, who made the points I was about to make about Article 16. When I was on the Front Bench here, I repeatedly stated that the conditions for meeting Article 16 had been met but we would prefer to proceed by negotiation. I was looked at as some sort of barbarian by many people in this House, and elsewhere, for daring to contemplate such a possibility. Yet it now seems that it is what many people would wish to do to resolve this situation—the natural way of doing so. I am very glad that is the view, but I am afraid that my view is that the situation on the ground in Northern Ireland has gone beyond that and Article 16 will not be the best way to resolve that.
I thank my noble friend for giving way. The view that I think many around the Committee hold is that the triggering of Article 16 was something that we did feel would be premature and we had all expected that there would be negotiations with the EU. However, the opposition to triggering that stage never envisaged that something like this Bill could be introduced which would rip up the whole protocol before negotiations had even been completed.
I thank my noble friend for her comments; she is correct to say that the situation last year was different from this year. We did not invoke Article 16 in the end and many people were disappointed about that. Since then, the situation has moved on; it has deteriorated. I think this Bill is really the only way of resolving it.
Thirdly and finally, many noble Lords seem to believe that a negotiated way through this would be made easier by withdrawing the Bill. I profoundly disagree. It is very much the best way through to find a negotiated solution and that is what I wanted to do last year. The observed behaviour of the European Union, through last year and this year, is that it does not wish to negotiate about the fundamental core of the problem. The proposals it has put on the table are at the margin; they are not to do with the core of the difficulties in so many areas—not just trade but state aid, VAT and other issues that go into the depths of the protocol. I do not believe it will unless it is forced to engage with the fact that the UK Government have an alternative, which is to use the powers in this Bill. If we take the Bill off the table, we are removing such limited leverage as the UK Government have to deliver for their people, the people of Northern Ireland, a better outcome.
I will wind up there. It is very important that we do not show infirmity of purpose on this and that the Bill continues. I urge the Minister in winding up to make it clear that we intend to move forward with it.
I did not plan on speaking in this debate, but I think it is only right that somebody should thank the noble Lord, Lord Frost, for explaining to us how bad things have become in Northern Ireland as a result of the treaty he negotiated. I am very happy to do that. I will, however, keep my speech brief and not make a Second Reading speech.
Of course, I support these two amendments but hope very much that we will not get to vote on them. To echo the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, we have been asked to put lipstick on a pig again. We have been asked to do that many times in the last couple of years, but to my knowledge, this is first time that the pig is not only ugly but illegal. On that basis, we should not get to vote on it. What we should do now, as others have said, is invoke Article 16. If negotiations are not working, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, there is a route open to us but passing an illegal Bill is certainly not it.
My Lords, I had been planning to speak on the detail of the amendments. It seems to me to be quite unreasonable, as the noble Lords, Lord Dodds and Lord Bew, have already said, that the whole essence of the Belfast agreement, which was that important decisions would be made on a cross-community basis—a difficult principle for unionists to accept at the time—is now being abandoned the moment it becomes inconvenient. I say that as someone who was rather opposed, at the time, to the Belfast agreement—not on orange or green grounds but because I thought it was unhealthy to have all the parties in power all the time. I thought it would be healthier for democracy to have a more genuine competition. I lost that argument and we went down this road. It seems a little inconsistent that we should move to majoritarianism only when it suits people pushing one agenda.
The point ably made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, is that this is not really what this or any of these amendments are about—I commend him on his honesty as well as on his customary eloquence. What all these amendments have been about—noble Lords have been perfectly frank about this—is their fundamental disagreement because of their contention that the Bill is illegal; that point was well expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. You can share or not the sense of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, that it is covered by Articles 1 and 2 giving primacy to the Belfast agreement and that that has prior force.
I am not a lawyer—there are many more distinguished people than I am—but I wanted to bring before the Committee one other observation. I sit on the sub-committee that deals with the protocol. We have heard from all the parties in Northern Ireland, and all of them support the unilateral grace periods. Not a single one has spoken out for full implementation of the protocol in the sense of wanting those unilateral grace periods withdrawn. In fact, I do not think that anyone in the European Commission is pushing for either. Other than one or two fairly ill-informed Democratic congressmen in the US, I do not think that anyone at all now says that we should apply in full the protocol without those alleviations and suspensions. I therefore put it to your Lordships that we are already in breach of international law, so the question is simply one of degree.
I very much sense that I am in a majority in this Chamber—I can see very well where most people stand. However, I plead with your Lordships to consider in mitigation that the Government are dealing with imperfect alternatives, it is simply a question of how far you want to go to prioritise one over another, and that therefore some of the more extreme rhetoric that we had both at Second Reading and on the first day of Committee about dictatorships, this being the worst Bill ever, tyranny and so on may be a little misplaced.
This has been a much more wide-ranging debate than I had anticipated. I guess we will see a lot of that in Committee, because, as many noble Lords observed, of the fundamental nature of our objection to what the Government are trying to do. However, this group of amendments is timely and makes an important point. Whether or not we agree that we should be supporting these to the letter is not, I think, what the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie, were trying to ask in tabling them. They were trying to make an important point. The issues which the noble Lord, Lord Frost, quite rightly reminds us are real on the ground in Northern Ireland absolutely are. However, this situation is now unique to Northern Ireland, and in every instance where there are a set of problems that relate to one specific geographical area—perhaps especially Northern Ireland, but it could be Wales or the north of England—the idea that you would try to resolve them unilaterally, without proper engagement with communities who live there, is unrealistic. Whatever happens with our deliberations on the Bill, with the negotiations or even if there are to be elections, and as a consequence of all that, we will not be able to move forward unless all the parties in Northern Ireland get together and agree a way to proceed. Any other way of going about this will not provide us with a durable solution, and that durability of an agreement is what we all want.
The Government were warned about the protocol at the time. It has been said, “But we were in a bit of a hurry because we weren’t allowed to leave without a deal; we just had to do something and this was better than nothing.” We have heard all that, and whatever we think about a Government making that kind of argument when they had an 80-seat majority and could pretty much at that point do whatever they wanted, we are where we are. However, these problems were completely foreseeable, and I regret that we have got to where we are.
Some people say that we need to expedite the Bill—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Frost, said this—and move on. That is fine, but to do what? What is it that the Government want to do instead? We do not know. Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, said he was concerned that he did not know. We have not seen draft regulations. We are being asked to agree to something without knowing what it is we will be left with at the end of the process; that is not reasonable for this Committee.
At the risk of making a wide-ranging and ponderous speech that deviates all over the place and does not address these amendments, let me say that saying, “Oh well, some people on your side said it was a bad idea at the time; therefore we must never do it”, is not a serious response to the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, about this being the legal mechanism to which the UK Government agreed. We have not heard an adequate response from the Government on why they now view Article 16 as an inadequate provision that would not address the issues with the protocol that they say, and we agree, need to be resolved.
Also, on the idea that having this issue on the table will somehow make the EU more forthcoming in giving us what we want—although we lack clarity on that—I think we could be forgiven for not placing too much faith in the brilliance of the UK’s negotiating ability, given that it has brought us to precisely where we are today. The point that the noble Baronesses were making in tabling these amendments is a very important one, and one that we want to take seriously—especially in what the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, said about the cross-community nature of that involvement. We absolutely take that on board but it remains a point of principle, and one we should not lose, that we cannot do things to or act unilaterally in a way that has a huge impact on Northern Ireland without proper, full engagement with the communities there.
My Lords, I trust that the Committee will forgive me if I, somewhat unfashionably, pay lip service to the Standing Orders of the House and actually speak to the amendments. In so doing, I want to try to live up to the comments from my noble friend Lord Cormack. As an admirer of Harold Macmillan and the Baldwinite tradition in the Conservative Party, I will try to deliver my comments in that quiet, calm, deliberative way of which Mr Macmillan was so fond.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, for his kind words. I fear that, from now on, I will only disappoint him. Without going over the history, I say that he is well aware of what my views were three years ago but, as I have said many times, I am less interested in how we got here and more interested in how we can move on and get out of here into a more satisfactory state of affairs.
Before I turn directly to the amendments, as this is my first opportunity to speak from the Front Bench since the passing of May Blood, I want to reiterate a number of the comments made about her last week. She was an absolutely fearless and tireless champion of the rights of everybody in Northern Ireland. Her record in bringing people together, particularly through her work on integrated education, was absolutely inspirational.
I have just been sent a text. Some people will have come across a chap called Bob Mauro, who was the director of Irish Studies at Boston College; I see the noble Lord, Lord Hain, nodding. Sadly, I have just been informed that he has passed away. He was a man with whom those of us who have been involved in the affairs of Northern Ireland over a number of years had a great many dealings, so our sympathies go to his family and colleagues as well.
I emphasise a couple of points on which I strongly agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Suttie and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and which underline the frustrations that we all share in this House over the lack of devolved government since February. A number of us have sadly been through this experience on too many occasions in recent years, and Members opposite went through it from 2002 to 2007. It is not a satisfactory state of affairs. We are firmly committed to the Belfast agreement, to its institutions and to getting devolved government back up and running as soon as possible. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will have this at the top of his agenda when he meets the political parties in Northern Ireland over the coming days.
Amendments 4 and 5, in the names of the noble Baronesses, would essentially, by requiring the prior approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly, undermine the ability to exclude elements of the protocol and therefore undermine the entire operation of the Bill. In application, these amendments, if passed, would be wrecking amendments. We are very committed to restoring a fully functioning Executive and Assembly, but I remind the Committee that it is because of the operation of the protocol in its current form that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat since February. Sadly, we cannot be sure how long that state of affairs will persist. Therefore, these amendments risk setting a test which, in the current circumstances, could not be met due to the lack of an Assembly. The disapplication of elements of the protocol is also an excepted matter of foreign affairs reserved for the UK Government. Although we of course engage with parties in Northern Ireland, it would be improper, effectively, to transfer a new competence to a devolved Assembly in this way.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, that we are committed to the Sewel convention and that we are pursuing options for obtaining legislative consent to the Bill from devolved Administrations. The Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office wrote to the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service regarding legislative consent and it remains our hope that we can reach a positive resolution on this point as soon as the institutions are restored. Regarding conversations with MLAs and political parties in Northern Ireland, I assure the noble Lord that these continue all the time, involving the Secretary of State, the Minister of State and me. We are in Northern Ireland, talking to political parties, all the time. It will not surprise the noble Lord that these issues surface from time to time. Without going into details of individual conversations, we continue to engage.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, referred to the letter sent earlier this year to the then Prime Minister, setting out opposition to the protocol Bill. This was raised by a number of noble Lords. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, I am somewhat surprised, as one who spent many years as an adviser in the Northern Ireland Office and was told that particular arrangements for Northern Ireland were completely unsuitable because they did not have the support of a minority, now to be told that somehow majority rule, after a 50-year absence, ought to make a return. As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, cross-community consent is at the heart of the Belfast agreement. Following the May election, the largest single designation in the Assembly remains unionist. Under the 1998 rules, we would still be looking at a unionist First Minister. That remains the largest single designation and it is worth pointing out again that not a single unionist Member of that largest designation in the Assembly supports the protocol in its current form. In those circumstances, it is fair to point out that we have a problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for whom I have great respect, and my noble friend Lady Altmann said that a majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain within the EU. At the risk of exciting controversy, I point out to both of them that so did I. However, the vote was by the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave. For the sake of our democracy, it is important that we respect that vote.
The noble Lord said that Northern Ireland is not uniquely disadvantaged by a democratic deficit and referred to the European Economic Area. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds of Duncairn, dealt with this somewhat, but I should add that new EU legislation is not automatically added to the EEA agreement, whereas the protocol provides that new EU legislation automatically applies in Northern Ireland if it amends or replaces legislation in the annexes to the protocol, without adequate opportunity to reflect on its implications for NI. That is where the sense of a democratic—
The noble Lord is a former diplomat. He is a far greater expert on these matters than I will ever be. However, my noble friend Lord Hannan has just whispered in my ear “the post office directive”. I will come back to the noble Lord with further details.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I know that we will come on to the application of EU law in later groups, but since the Minister has helpfully referred to that, it would be good for him to be clear that, even under this Bill—the dual regulatory regime that the Government are proposing—there will be direct application of EU laws.
As the noble Lord rightly pointed out, we will deal with this subject in the fourth group of amendments. I shall be responding for the Government, so if he can contain himself, we will deal with it at the appropriate point—if we get there this evening.
In summary, we do not think that it would be right to make implementation of measures in this Bill contingent on the restoration of the institutions, given the urgency of the situation in Northern Ireland to which the Government must respond.
I turn briefly to Amendments 68 and 69, also in the name of the noble Baroness. Taken together, these would make the commencement of all operational aspects of the Bill dependent on the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly. At the risk of repeating myself, it is because of the operation of the protocol that the Assembly has not sat since February. We do not know how long this state of affairs will persist. The situation in Northern Ireland is urgent, and we cannot allow addressing the problems with the protocol to be delayed indefinitely.
The noble Lord, Lord Bew—I should really call him my noble friend—rightly referred to the fact that trade has been a reserved matter ever since the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The amendments would essentially prevent the Government making secondary legislation in a reserved area. That is another reason why we cannot accept them.
Given the urgency of the situation—the need to fix the protocol—it would not be right to make the implementation of the vital measures in this Bill contingent on the restoration of the Assembly and Executive. For those reasons, I ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendments.
My Lords, I begin by echoing the Minister’s comments on May Blood. On behalf of these Benches, I pass on our condolences to her family. I heard about her when I first went to Belfast, and she was held up as a role model for so many in Northern Ireland.
At the outset, I said that this would be a probing amendment. It would be fair to say that it has provoked and probed quite extensively. We have covered a variety of topics, with some very interesting and thought-provoking speeches. In particular, I single out the very measured speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and that of my noble friend Lord Bruce, who perhaps displayed his irritations and frustrations with the situation a little bit more clearly than I did.
As ever, I found myself agreeing entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. They are both absolutely right in their analysis that things are being done to Northern Ireland rather than for it. That is, in essence, the purpose of these amendments: they are probing amendments about the principle of consulting, and not just with one part of one community.
I totally agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. It was a wonderful piece of common sense. Would that we could all now finish what could perhaps be described as a waste of our collective time. There was an interesting series of contributions none the less.
I want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, who rightly said that the amendments are about the principle of consultation—consulting the Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and, in their absence, making sure that they are properly involved in the process. I fear that the Minister did not really expand on how that will happen in the weeks and months ahead.
It is, perhaps, one of the peculiarities of this Bill that no one department ever seems to want to take ownership of it. However, it was very welcome to have the Minister from the Northern Ireland Office today because, with all his experience, he was at least able to speak first hand about the consultation and the details of this legislation.
To repeat, the Northern Ireland protocol is a problem of this Government’s own making. Finding practical solutions needs to be their responsibility. However, it is important to listen to all voices in Northern Ireland and, as I said earlier, not just those of one part of one community. It is hard to see how creating further ill will through this legislation will achieve that aim. However, I will not press these amendments this afternoon but reserve the option of re-tabling them on Report, depending on what happens in the weeks ahead in Northern Ireland around the possible elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Amendments 5 and 6 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Movement of goods (including customs): excluded Protocol provision
7: Clause 4, page 3, line 13, leave out subsection (3)
Member’s explanatory statement
This is part of a series of amendments based on recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which states that a number of subsections in the Bill “contain inappropriate delegations of power and should be removed from the Bill.”
I rise to move Amendment 7 and to perhaps add some mascara to this porcine proposal for the satisfaction of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I tried to give a preview of the excitement of later groups to retain the attention of the Committee. Alas, we might be on to more of a core group with Clause 4. In many respects, it is the core of the Bill. We have been told by the noble Lord, Lord Frost—who is no longer in his place—that it contains the proposals which will resolve the issues. However, in many respects, the Bill should be called the Northern Ireland delegated powers Bill, because 19 of the 26 clauses are delegated powers clauses and not proposals that we are able to scrutinise properly.
On why imminent peril and the invocation of necessity is so important, it is because it is at the heart of the reasoning why Clause 4 exists. I shall not recap the discussion on the previous group or the first day in Committee, but there is still a lack of clarity about the Government saying that the protocol is the issue but then that it is not the issue, it is its implementation. They have said in their legal paper that the situation of necessity needs to be addressed urgently but also that they have not yet made up their mind on solutions and addressing them will take time. They have said that there is imminent peril, but the Advocate-General told me on the first day in Committee that imminent is as long as the Government might consider it to be, so it is important to try to pin down when the imminent peril started.
I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Frost, is not able to stay for other groups in Committee because I wanted to respond to what he said. If this Bill is a negotiating tactic, he has completely undermined the Government’s argument for invoking the doctrine of necessity for this Bill, because it cannot be both. It cannot be a way of addressing grave and imminent peril and also be a negotiating tactic with the EU. I heard said from a sedentary position, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, “Why not?” If the whole reason of grave and imminent peril for the invocation of international law is to set aside treaty commitments but there are negotiations under way to resolve them, you cannot invoke the doctrine of necessity because the doctrine of necessity under Article 25 of the International Law Commission can be invoked only if there are no other means of resolving the issues, so it simply cannot be both.
I am trying to pin down when this peril actually started and how we are to consider what the baselines are. The noble Lord, Lord True, told the Chamber in January 2021 that concerns about the implementation of the protocol must not be overstated. He said:
“I acknowledge that there have been issues—that was never denied—but, overall, goods are continuing to flow effectively. Supermarkets are able to move their lorries into Northern Ireland. There are some specific issues, as we have seen with individual suppliers, but it is holding up well overall.”—[Official Report, 14/1/21; col. 884.]
A week later, his then Secretary of State Brandon Lewis told BBC “Question Time” viewers—I quote from the transcript of the programme: “The protocol means that as part of the United Kingdom Northern Ireland is going to have this unique competitive advantage in the world, in the sense that Northern Ireland has the ability to trade in and as part of the United Kingdom as well as through the single market with the EU. That is going to mean if you are a business that deals with the UK and a business that deals with the EU, the place to invest and grow your business is in Northern Ireland. You have got that ability to trade both ways and I think that gives Northern Ireland a competitive advantage and a huge opportunity.”
Therefore, the Government rest their case on grave and imminent peril somewhere between January 2021 and the publication of the White Paper. During that period, I asked repeatedly for information on UK-EU trade, and we were also asking questions about east-west trade between GB and Northern Ireland. Ministers stated to me in response that it was impossible to disaggregate factors such as Covid and then the global supply chain. They have found ways to do for this for GB-NI trade, but it is hard to discern from official government statistics produced by the Northern Ireland statistics body, and the Department for Transport’s data for UK major ports have not shown major shifts. So I would be grateful if the Government would publish this information directly. They have indicated that trade diversion exists, but they have not published statistics showing their case. I am very willing to look at them if they have published them, but they have not yet done so. Therefore, we need to have more information as they are seeking powers to put forward a dual regulatory system of both UK and EU procedures.
I appreciate the comments that were made on the first day in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and others that the protocol has not been implemented in full yet, and I understand that, but neither has the TCA for any UK port of exit and entry for goods into the UK. We are on our third delay for Dover and all other ports, and they are not fully operational. For trade between the UK and the EU, there is not a single fully operational port under the measures of the TCA in any of the four nations.
Clause 4 is an admitted breach of the protocol agreement. It represents withdrawing from the Government’s agreement on customs legislation—the unique competitive advantage described by Brandon Lewis. The powers under this section are affirmative but unamendable if they are changing the law, or making retrospective law, negative elsewhere, but also automatic in the “made affirmative” procedure. As the DPRRC said, the Government’s justification for the Clause 4(3) powers is the need for flexibility and that they are technical in nature and the technical should not be in statute. However, the regulations themselves can amend statute, so if it is justified for primary legislation in the first place, it obviously justifies it for its amendment. Let us not forget that this is international law. On the other point on flexibility, the DPRRC stated that this is
“at the expense of meaningful constraints and scrutiny, precisely because the power is so open-ended.”
The Clause 4(5) powers are also an admitted breach. They replace an agreed joint mechanism with a unilateral mechanism to decide how to categorise goods which may or may not be at risk of entering the single market. This would be a unique proposition for the UK now, contrary to all UK FTAs and the WTO. As the DPRRC states:
“It cannot reasonably be described as technical, administrative or operational detail.”
It is not just that committee. The Constitution Committee has said that
“it undermines the rule of law for the UK Government to invite Parliament to pass legislation in breach of the UK’s international obligations. Enabling ministers to do this through secondary legislation, particularly via the negative resolution procedure, is even less constitutionally acceptable.”
On the basis that this clause is an admitted breach of international law and the Government’s defence for the breach has fallen apart, and, further, that the Government have not presented a replacement for the provisions of the protocol they seek to exclude, and the powers are so broad and have been condemned by the committees of this House, I beg to move.
I was hoping that others would take on the strain. I spoke at Second Reading, and I have tried to come to this really representing the settled views of the committees of this House that have been considering these areas. I think we have heard quite a bit already in debates about the wisdom, or lack of it, of passing something that has the appearance of being an illegality. It does not matter whether or not it is; it is the appearance that is hugely damaging in terms of the rule of law point.
I will add briefly to those general views by saying only that there is a further view, and that is that we have to do an awful lot of deals with the EU over the coming years on a whole lot of things, and it is fairly unwise at this very early stage in the new relationship to have such a big black put up about us not being a reliable partner. I am deeply concerned about that, and it is a concern that has flowed through to the various reports that we have written over many years in this area. I am looking at a solid former member of the European Union Committee in my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who made a very good speech in the previous group, and at my noble friend Lord Pannick, who made an equally good speech and who has been strong in this area. In this group, I do not want to follow up on that, but in view of the fact that everyone seems to be going very wide here in Committee I thought I would just make that point now rather than very late tonight.
The particular point I want to raise came out of the June 2019 report of the European Union Committee, Scrutiny of International Agreements: Lessons Learned. The important thing to note here, I think, is what the man in the street had in terms of scrutiny at an elected or a parliamentary representative level in the moment before Brexit. The cherry had three bites out of it—or, really, two bites and a nibble. The first bite was that his representative in the European Parliament was going through the thing very carefully indeed, as most trade deals and many international agreements were on European matters. The second bite was that, through the action of the scrutiny reserve resolutions, the European Union Committee structure in this House and the European Scrutiny Committee structure in the House of Commons were going through things in exhaustive detail, and the interaction of those two committees and the European Parliament began at the start of any process and followed it all the way through to the end.
The third little nibble came with CRaG, a simple thing which looks at the eventual results; it is a quick yes or no procedure, where the House of Lords does not have any power at all and the House of Commons has precious little. We said in our report of June 2019 that
“the CRAG Act is poorly designed to facilitate parliamentary scrutiny.”
That is pretty clear, and it seems to me on rereading the report over the weekend that it is a pretty good report. I am coming at this in a slightly different way, but what worries me now is that these are core changes to an international agreement that could be made without any form of parliamentary scrutiny—that is true of this group but other groups as well—not even the CRaG form of scrutiny, just a Minister making an agreement. For core changes to core treaties with core partners, there must be a very good parliamentary scrutiny process.
I have not arrived with the answers to exactly what the process should be but I am saying that it must be a very serious process. I think the net effect of amendments like these would be to remove the ability of a Minister to make a decision like that but leave a mechanism whereby a Minister could come back to Parliament and—after suitable scrutiny with a suitable process—have a parliamentary agreement to back up whatever the change being discussed. I have been sitting over this for six and a half years, and I find it very difficult to discuss such changes in the abstract. I would like to discuss specific changes specifically, which is why I feel very supportive of this line of amendments and thankful that they have been tabled.
In effect, we have heard this evening a reiteration of Dunning’s Motion in the reign of George III:
“The influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.”
We are seeing in the Bill not only an abrogation of international law and our obligations, which is what primarily concerns me, but in the process, by the design of the Bill, an accretion of power to Ministers and the Executive—an unbalancing of the relationship between Parliament and the Executive.
The Executive are answerable to Parliament in our constitution. Here, great chunks are being given to the power of the Executive. We owe an enormous debt to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and his committee, and other committees in this House, which have pointed this out calmly—to use a word I used earlier—but very forcefully. We are embarking on a road towards executive superiority such as is incompatible with our constitution, which is moving away in the 21st century from what our forefathers fought for in the past. We cannot emphasise that too greatly.
The person who could make this speech far better than I and whose name is on the amendments spoken to eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. Time and again, in a variety of Bills and contexts, he has pointed out to your Lordships’ House how the accumulation of Henry VIII powers in the hands of Ministers, without proper accountability to the House, is the road towards executive domination such as is incompatible with our constitution, as I said a few moments ago.
In wholeheartedly supporting these amendments, I urge my noble friend, when he comes to reply from the Front Bench, to address this issue and address it directly. I have great admiration for my noble friend Lord Caine. I certainly have great admiration for his knowledge of, and concern for, Northern Ireland, to which he has dedicated a large part of his life; but is he really happy to be put in a position, or see any of his ministerial colleagues put in a position, where they can override Parliament effectively by diktat?
I completely agree with the noble Lord, particularly in relation to his tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. In his absence—as his junior as it were—I draw this Committee’s attention to the quite extraordinary report of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory and Reform Committee to which reference has been made before, particularly at Second Reading, but it bears repetition. Its seventh report of this Session says at paragraph 4 that this is
“a skeleton bill that confers on Ministers a licence to legislate in the widest possible terms.”
“The Bill represents as stark a transfer of power from Parliament to the Executive as we have seen throughout the Brexit process. The Bill is unprecedented in its cavalier treatment of Parliament”.
That is quite an extraordinary criticism of this legislation. It is made not by novices but by highly experienced and respected Members of your Lordships’ House across party lines. I find it deeply regrettable that the Government should think it appropriate to continue with a Bill that has attracted such cross-party criticism.
My Lords, I came into Parliament nearly 40 years ago and was told first of all that you should never ask a question to which you do not already know the answer. Now that I have been here so long, I feel that I can take the risk of asking some questions to which I do not know the answer, about a very important aspect of the Bill that has just been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
There are two criticisms of the Bill, the first being that it is allegedly against international law. I do not believe that and have not really heard any answers to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bew. What happens when you have two conflicting international obligations? The second criticism is that it relies, very largely and to an almost unprecedented degree, on Henry VIII clauses. Historically, I am very reluctant to rely extensively on Henry VIII clauses, and I was rather shocked by the committee report to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has just referred.
The questions that I want to ask, and to which I do not know the answer, are: first, what is the alternative in the context in which we are to have open-ended Henry VIII clauses; and secondly, why did the Government not adopt that alternative? I assume that the alternative to the Henry VIII clauses is to spell out in detail, in primary legislation, what you intend to do, but the context in which we are doing it is that we are simultaneously legislating and negotiating.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said that we cannot do that. It seems to me perfectly compatible with the doctrine of necessity to do that. We have to do something, we need the power to do something, we have taken the legal power to do something, but we would like that something to be negotiated if possible. So we are simultaneously negotiating and legislating. If we spell out in primary legislation, in detail, the outcome that we want to get, in the context of a negotiation that involves give and take, we either have to spell out the maximum we want—what we want to take without any give—or the minimum we are prepared to accept: what we are prepared to give without any prospect of taking.
In this unusual situation of having to have the legal powers to act while we are negotiating and hoping for a negotiated solution, I am not sure what alternative there is to what the Government have done. I would be grateful to hear what noble Lords would do who share my reluctance to rely on Henry VIII clauses. Effectively, we are saying we are recreating the royal prerogative in the negotiation, giving the Government a free hand, while giving them the power to take legislative action if those negotiations do not achieve a satisfactory result.
My Lords, in an earlier debate the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, pointed out precedents whereby the Government relied on regulations to give meat to a Bill and they had been published by this stage, so that we had some sight of what we were signing up to.
I am interested that on this occasion, on this group of amendments, my noble friends on the Democratic Unionist Benches have been strangely silent. Given what we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in moving the amendments and from others who supported him, to me, this amounts to a democratic deficit. All the conditions that would normally be put in place, involving a review of the regulations before they came up, appear not to be in play at this time. I hope my noble friends will find common ground with me, recognising that this could be a democratic deficit the likes of which they would not like to see.
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, set out this group of amendments, he rightly said that Clause 4 is at the heart of the Bill, and the debate has really encapsulated that point.
I have a number of questions for the Minister. We will have several debates about the scope of the delegated powers proposed, but as this is the first group dealing with the reports by the DPRRC, it is worth recalling just how unprecedented these were. The DPRRC has chosen on a number of occasions to publish a report while a Bill is still in the Commons—there is nothing unusual in that—but rarely has it been so scathing, labelling the Bill
“unprecedented in its cavalier treatment of Parliament, the EU and the Government’s own international obligations”,
as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has said.
The committee was unable to propose tweaks to various powers in the Bill, including those in Clause 4. Instead, it recommended gutting several key clauses. As mentioned in the debate, the Government opted not to respond to the DPRRC before we moved into Committee, even though they had from July to do so. It is hard to see how the two sides can meet in the middle, so, if we proceed to Report, it is quite possible that this House will have to strip out several clauses.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, made interesting points when he talked about the previous level of scrutiny of EU law, in which this House played a very prominent part. I am sure many Members of this House served on those committees. The EU Committee scrutinised legislation, as did this House and a whole series of committees, and the House of Commons, of course. That was a far higher level of scrutiny than anything being proposed at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, asked an interesting question—and he was fair in saying it was a genuine question—about the alternatives to this multitude of Henry VIII powers. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response. It seems to me that the alternative is to go through things in detail, as the old EU committee structure in this House used to do routinely. I will be interested to hear the answer to the noble Lord’s question.
We are sympathetic to this group of amendments. I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is going to do but we are happy to support him.
My Lords, I am well aware of the sensitivity in this House regarding Henry VIII powers, and I respect that; it is a serious argument. However, Northern Ireland looks at these things from an angle that is not entirely the way the House of Lords looks at them. For one thing, there are what you might call Louis XIV powers all over the place in terms of European law and regulations, but there is silence about that.
The second issue, which has already been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, is that again and again, we have had the most dramatic demonstrations of Henry VIII powers in areas where I and other Members, a majority in your Lordships’ House, are in agreement—abortion laws and so on. We do it all the time. When we as a local assembly like it, when it is our kind of opinion, we have no problems. When we do not like what is proposed, we discover that this application of Henry VIII powers is intrinsically terrible. To be blunt, the House needs to avoid looking totally hypocritical on this point.
I feel that I have been living for a very long time with Article 16 and the potential illegality or otherwise of the Government’s legislation. When I first encountered it, in fact, it was Article 15 in Theresa May’s Bill; it was that long ago. I read and reread it until I was blue in the face. Let me say what the problem is in attempting to challenge the Government’s position. The best argument against the current position in the legislation is that Article 16 could be and should have been applied. At the moment, it is ridiculous. We are in the middle of a serious negotiation with the EU and it would break that up, so it is fatuous and politically absurd. Apart from the principle of reality, I can see why people want to argue that, but it is not going to happen now because the Government want this legislation with the EU to succeed. In the Financial Times as recently as September, the EU was defining the application of Article 16 as an outrage and so on. The situation would simply be aggravated.
The other weak point of this argument is that saying, “We want Article 16 but nothing else” is the sound of one hand clapping. None of those who have argued for it in this House since Second Reading has shown any grasp of the central difficulty of the relationship between the two treaties and their interaction. If you are going to argue, as distinguished international lawyers have done before both our Select Committees, that the Government have a case of sorts but Article 16 should be applied first, that is based on the idea that there is an interaction between the two treaties and this is the best way of acting to defend the Good Friday agreement. That is a perfectly respectable intellectual legal argument, but it just does not fit with the political moment we find ourselves in, with ongoing negotiations.
The sensitivity that people in this Chamber have about the attitudes and feelings of the EU is quite remarkable when they do not seem to feel it themselves; they feel that they are quite adult enough to get on with this negotiation anyway, regardless of the Bill. As I pointed out, the Irish Foreign Secretary said openly that they do not like the Bill but that is not a reason for not having the negotiations. Still, it is wonderful to see people stick up for other people’s rights and interests when they themselves do not seem quite so keen or worked up about the subject.
The main point is that just saying “Article 16” is simply one hand clapping. The only possible viable argument is to say—as indeed both the House of Commons and our own Select Committee have been told—that that is indeed the way you could use it to get a result. The best criticism of the Government is that you cannot really prove necessity unless you have gone down this route. It so happens that the Government are stuck in a moment of real politics, the real negotiation that is going on, so they cannot do it, but the majority of speakers in this House say, “I would like Article 16”. That is an amazing recent conversion to Article 16. A few months ago, most of us hated it and regarded even talking about it as a piece of British brutishness. Now we really love it because we prefer it to the Bill. Unless you add to that that you accept that there is a real problem with the interaction between this agreement and the Good Friday agreement, as the former Lord Chancellor said in the House of Commons, then, in the Chinese phrase, it is just one hand clapping.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, raises a fascinating conundrum, but what he said about Article 16 was based on a misunderstanding of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said earlier. I do not think I have met anybody in this House who believes that the right course of action, in abstract, is to use Article 16. The right course of action is to apply the treaty that we signed: that is what a lot of us believe. Clearly, there are others who take a different view. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, was making—which is clearly correct, and has been made several times by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—was that there is Article 16. It exists. It is the designated route—the agreed route, the treaty route—to deal with a dispute about the implementation of the protocol. I am not saying that we should be using Article 16. I am saying that we should not be using another means and pretending that it is legal so to do while Article 16 exists. That seems to be the rub of it.
I will try to deal in an amateur way with the interesting questions from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. I do not know the answer either, but one answer would be the Irish answer: “I wouldn’t be starting from here.” I am sure that the noble Lord agrees with me that if you read Clause 18(1) or Clause 22(1) and (2) of the Bill, the only question in your mind is: is this Lewis Carroll or is it Stalin? These are astonishing powers taken for the Minister, by regulation, to do whatever he likes, providing it is broadly to do with Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, the reports that we have seen from three committees—but particularly the Delegated Powers Committee—are devastating. I cannot remember seeing in this House such strong language used in a unanimously agreed cross-party report.
The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, would agree with me that we do not want to be in this situation. There must be another solution. As a former negotiator, I would say that it is crucial to avoid putting the ball in your own net. Frankly, attempting this legislation while also attempting—or claiming to be attempting—to conduct negotiations, is absurd. Here I part company with my friend the noble Lord, Lord Frost, whose third argument today was exploded by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. He said that it is necessary for negotiating reasons to advance this protocol; this is what will make the other side sit up and pay attention. You cannot argue both necessity and that. In my view, you would be mad to argue that, because on the other side of the table it is not a playground spat. On the other side of the table is a grown-up group of 27 countries that believe in the rule of law and are concerned that bad precedents should not be set. They cannot possibly concede that, because there is a blunderbuss on the table, they must give you what you are asking for in negotiations. They are not going to do that. Therefore, my answer to the conundrum of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is that it is a great mistake to legislate in these terms while you are negotiating. If Ministers are telling the truth about their wish to negotiate a solution to this, the last thing they should be doing is putting forward this Bill.
My Lords, I really agree with every word that has just been said. I have another suggestion for the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. The truth is that most liberal democracies in the world exist in an environment where major changes to international agreements or the making of international agreements are scrutinised by Parliament on a fairly open basis. We all know, for instance, that Mr Šefčovič has a mandate. In fact, we know an awful lot about that mandate. Mr Šefčovič regularly briefs committees in the European Parliament and has a pretty good ability to bring the European Parliament along with him, which is important—and, indeed, to bring the 27 nations along with him as well.
I am not suggesting that we should copy and paste that, but I note that the PACAC, a committee of the other place, was in Norway last week. I had a detailed discussion with a member of that committee on Friday about how Norway deals with this. In fact, Norway also brings along its Parliament in a very open way and this does not appear to interfere with the negotiating process in the way the noble Lord was worried about. These are major changes to an international agreement. The international agreements process that we have, which we need to rebuild in this Parliament, should take account of that and should apply. That is a fairly open process to the committees and Members of both Houses; I feel that strongly. I do not see any other liberal democracies doing this. We are unique in having cut Parliament out of the process. I see no other democracies having problems of the nature that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is worried about. I could see that he was genuinely worried, but I have to say that I am not.
My Lords, I will not rehearse what I said previously about Article 16, but I will see if I can answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. If you are faced with two instruments that appear to be in conflict—which I think is what we are arguing—the first thing you do is have a detailed analysis of these instruments to see whether there is a provision in them that will enable you to reconcile the difference. The advantage of Article 16 has just been set out by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. You are adhering to the treaty by using a term within the treaty that helps you avoid being in conflict with the other treaty. That is a possible way of doing it.
If I may intervene briefly, I have tried to explain that I had an intense relationship with Article 16 when it was deeply unfashionable in this House. Many times in the last year, I have wanted to argue privately with the Government that it should be applied. The arguments made for it are impeccable and have been for years; that is simply the case. The problem is that this is not conceivably a rational moment. There are complaints about the Bill. Does it matter what the Irish Foreign Minister says? It is said that it does not matter; we are choosing to disregard it. This is a moment when we are negotiating seriously with the EU. Suddenly to come in and say, “By the way”—and the logic is, in general terms, superb—“we are applying Article 16 now”, is bound to be destructive of the negotiations that are proceeding. We must respect the reality of the moment.
To prevent the noble Lord, Lord Bew, having to get up and sit down again, I ask him again to appreciate and acknowledge that, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, nobody in the debates we have had, whether at Second Reading, on the first day in Committee or today, is arguing to invoke Article 16. No one is advocating its use, let alone now. All that is being said is that the legal argument of necessity invoked by the Government is undermined by the fact that they have never resorted to the use of Article 16; hence necessity is on very shallow foundations.
My Lords, if I may make a short point before the Minister gets up to speak, it is clear that we are going to have a debate on international law and so on about every set of clauses. All I want at this stage is to draw attention to the actual situation and practical reality for people moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as a result of the application of EU customs law for those goods coming to Northern Ireland. Briefly, and cutting through the arguments about international law, let us have a look at the reality.
The Government will have spent £340 million through the Trader Support Service helping traders process 2.3 million customs declarations for trade between two parts of the United Kingdom. For those 2.3 million declarations, by the end of the year the taxpayer will have forked out almost £350 million, and that comes on top of the movement and assistance schemes and other schemes designed to help people with the paperwork. According to some estimates, it could amount to £500 million. That support is not guaranteed to continue into the future. It has been extended for another year but at some point those costs will have to be borne by hauliers—the companies which move those goods—and consumers. There will certainly be a massive increase in the cost of living. Already, as a result of the paperwork that people have to go through, even with that support we have seen example after example of firms in Great Britain simply refusing to have any further dealings with Northern Ireland. It is simply not worth their time, effort or money, even with those vast millions going into the Trader Support Service.
I urge noble Lords to look at what people in companies such as McBurney Transport and McCulla—the people who transport goods to the Irish Republic as well, not just Northern Ireland—are saying about the paperwork and the reality of these customs burdens on trade between one part of the United Kingdom and another, and then tell people that this is a sensible way of approaching it. We need change. I understand the arguments about international law and all of that but we need to have this rectified. We cannot continue to fork out this kind of money and still have companies refusing to do business with one part of the United Kingdom; namely, Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I acknowledge that, as with the previous group, we have perhaps gone wider than the specific amendments. In the interests of time, and since we need to make progress on the Bill, I am not going to go into the more general arguments. My noble friends on the Front Bench and I have articulated several times the Government’s position on the need to proceed with the Bill, and those circumstances remain. I am reminded that when the debate started this afternoon, my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Howell, I think, among others, returned to the Front Bench the point about the necessity—to use a legal term, but not in its application to the Bill—to proceed with it. I assure the House as one of the three Ministers responsible for the passage of the Bill that, while in the middle of a reshuffle, our weekends—I speak for all three of us—have been focused on the detail of the Bill and proceeding with it. The fact that the three of us are still present reflects the Government’s current intent, because we feel that this is necessary.
I have heard the arguments again today, many of which were articulated at Second Reading and in our debates so far in Committee, and I understand the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I listened carefully on the issue of Article 16, and he is of course right. I know that the noble Lord has a different perspective, but that is why I say that we have never said that Article 16 is off the table. It remains an instrument available to the Government within the treaty that we have signed, as noble Lords have said. However, there is a reality, which was articulated very well just now by my noble friend Lord Dodds. The reality is what businesses are now facing. The protocol is not working and if is not working in the interests of any part of the United Kingdom, as its Government we are obligated to ensure that we provide a practical solution which works in the interests, first and foremost, of the citizens of our united United Kingdom. That remains the primary intent of the United Kingdom Government.
I will pick up on some of the specifics. In introducing his amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about published statistics. What I can share with the noble Lord is that HMRC has published summary data on the numbers of declarations, their associated value and the number of businesses importing goods into Northern Ireland from Great Britain in 2021. I will give a couple of summary statistics, if I may: in 2021, over 1 million full declarations were declared to HMRC. The number of businesses associated with those full declarations was 10,400, while 100 GB businesses have stopped supplying the Northern Ireland market already. The requirement to follow EU rules is one of the factors behind this situation, as was alluded to in the detail of the contribution of my noble friend Lord Dodds.
I turn to the amendments in front of us, including Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Lord. As many noble Lords noted, a number of the amendments are on the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, to which the Government will respond, as I said earlier, as they will to the report of the Constitution Committee. I have checked with officials and we will certainly seek to respond in advance of Report.
I acknowledge the reservations raised today. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is someone who I respect greatly and have great admiration for. I assure noble Lords that in our engagement on the Bill, it did not surprise me at all that the majority of our discussions began, as he said, “Well, Tariq, you know what I’m going to raise with you.” Yes, the Bill has many clauses where the Government seek to take certain powers because we believe that they are necessary. The Government remain of the view that these delegated powers are required, and will enable secondary legislation to set out precisely the UK or non-EU movements that will be excluded by Clause 4(2).
The operation of the protocol, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and my noble friends Lord Dodds and Lord Lilley, has shown that the manner and nature of the issues faced by businesses in moving goods have not been static over time. There needs to be flexibility to respond to the changing circumstances in order to maintain the effective flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. As noted in the 2025 UK Border Strategy, we are seeing long-term shifts in how goods move; for example, through increasing e-commerce and advances in technologies for Governments to manage flow. It is therefore appropriate that means are available to adapt arrangements to be fit for purpose at all times. In the Government’s view, this power is drafted with the appropriate breadth for them to confidently address issues which may arise from time to time that disrupt businesses.
I listened carefully to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on the importance and appropriateness of making secondary legislative provision and what the alternatives would be. The EU legal acts in the first 10 points in Annex 2 alone are over 1,500 pages in length. Before one even comes to the remaining 37 points contained therein covering other pieces of EU law, that is already longer than some of the longest pieces of legislation currently on the statute book. To draw a totally different example, the Companies Act 2006 is 1,260 pages long. It would therefore not be appropriate, in the Government’s view, to have this amount detailed in primary legislation.
I turn now to Amendment 8, which is also based on the recommendations of the DPRRC and is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. Clause 4(5) provides the power to
“make provision about the meaning of ‘UK or non-EU destined’”
goods and provides examples of how the power may be used. The conditions and criteria for determining what is a UK or non-EU-destined good are likely to be detailed. These conditions and criteria will need to be mindful of the full complexities of business operations and supply chains, which are constantly changing, as I said earlier. It would not be proportionate to update primary legislation with this level of detail. Similarly, delegated powers enabling detailed provision to be made in secondary legislation are suitable in the Government’s view for legislation dealing with the movement of goods. It would not be appropriate use of parliamentary time to engage in legal technicalities of how a movement is technically defined.
I hope those who seek to understand the Government’s intention in this clause will also consider the explanation that the Government have set out in the accompanying documents and statements. My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the issues of regulations. I alluded to those earlier and of course I accept them, but as details emerge we will share further details on this. I also point out to noble Lords the volume of secondary legislative provision that might be required. I have been told that annexe 2 of the protocol contains over 1,500 pages. This is greater than the Government of India Act 1935, which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, may know far better than I do, but, being of Indian origin, “India” certainly resonates with me.
The issue of negotiation and discussion was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I had the opportunity to join the last call that the Foreign Secretary had with Commissioner Šefčovič. Therefore, when I talk about the tone and detail of our engagement, I can share with noble Lords that it was positive and constructive. I add the simple point that the EU is aware that the Bill is being proceeded with in your Lordships’ House; it is not lost on the EU. I am sure that it will have a different perspective from the UK Government, but this is a reality. My noble friend Lord Caine is in his place and the same applies to the discussions we are having with our colleagues in the Republic of Ireland. These things should not be factored out; these are the realities and practicalities of where we are today.
The tone and substance of the discussions were constructive—I share that not through something written in front of me, but from first-hand insight—but I cannot speculate on whether that will continue for ever. However, I can share with noble Lords, as I said I would, that we seek to provide, where we can, insights into how discussions are going. At the same time, I reiterate—no noble Lord would expect this, as many, like myself, have business experience—that you do not start showing every single hand and detail and discuss them openly in a negotiation. That point was made very ably by noble Lords who are supporting the Government’s actions on the Bill.
I move to the question of whether Clause 4 should stand part of the Bill. It is a key provision which will allow the implementation of a new regime for the movement of goods entering Northern Ireland and remaining in the UK. Clause 4(1) and (2) makes excluded provision those parts of the Northern Ireland protocol which require goods remaining in the UK to complete burdensome customs and regulatory processes. This includes provisions which would require the goods considered “at risk” of entering the EU to pay the EU tariff.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Government’s intention is to put in place a different regime with a green lane free of unnecessary paperwork, checks and duties for goods remaining within our united United Kingdom. For goods destined for the EU, there will be a red lane where full checks, controls and customs procedures would apply. I have said to officials that we are quite happy to arrange a briefing on the detail of how these lanes may work. I have said this to my noble friend Lord Cormack. Where I can, I will seek to provide clarification and more detail as necessary. If that is something that noble Lords feel would be helpful, we would be happy to arrange that.
The Minister is referring to the dual regulatory regime. I would like the Government to understand that this will work for some businesses but for other types of industry, such as the dairy and beef industries, it will not. It may be useful for the Government to take further evidence from those industries in Northern Ireland which have practical, on-the-ground experience of, for example, where there is a need for a department of agriculture certificate to certify that milk is milk and is of perfectly good quality. That needs to be addressed adequately.
My Lords, it would be a choice for that particular business or sector, as my noble friend Lord Caine, has just reminded me, but I take on board the noble Baroness’s point. That is what I have already suggested. When I was preparing for the sitting today, I asked officials if there were different approaches to different sectors. She has highlighted them. It would be helpful on the specifics, and I will certainly take that back to the department, but I have already offered that we could provide more insight and explanations.
On consultation, which the noble Baroness alluded to, we are doing exactly that. Our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office are speaking with businesses and the practical issues are, where necessary, being highlighted so we can address them. As we proceed with the Bill and have further discussions, the ultimate objective is to ease the burden on the ability of businesses from Great Britain to operate effectively and in a fluid nature within the context of the wider United Kingdom, inclusive of Northern Ireland.
Clause 4(4) sets out a non-exhaustive list of criteria which may be considered when prescribing those movements. It is these “qualifying movements” which will be ultimately entitled to enter our proposed green lane. Clause 4(5) provides a power under which a Minister can make regulations about the meaning of those goods which are heading for the UK, or which are non-EU destined, including by providing the basis under which a trader registered under a prescribed scheme, such as trusted trader scheme, can state whether goods being moved are UK or non-EU destined.
Finally, Clause 4(6) defines the meaning of “qualifying movement” for the purposes of the clause. Qualifying movements are those from any place other than the EU to Northern Ireland and the reverse, including movements within the UK and movements of goods by sea into ports in Northern Ireland. Clause 4 is right at the heart of our intentions in rationalising the processes alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, which are required when goods move into Northern Ireland. We have been clear that we do not believe it is appropriate to continue to require full customs and SPS processes when goods are not destined for the EU, and it is this clause that will allow us to put in place a more sensible regime. That is why I recommend that noble Lords allow this to stand part of the Bill.
I thank the Minister for his response. We will get to SPS issues later, as well as some of the customs elements that the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, highlighted.
I thank the Minister for his information from HMRC, which I of course read before this debate—it is static information for one calendar year. One of the frequently asked questions under that data is:
“Does HMRC hold data on NI movements from GB before January 2021?”
The answer is:
“No, the collection of data for goods moving into NI from GB has only been required since 1st January 2021”.
The Minister then added anecdotal evidence, which the noble Lord, Lord True, told us that we should not use. Both things cannot equate: a static set of data for one calendar year does not necessarily demonstrate the implementation of the protocol, especially since the trader scheme would have operated under many of these declarations anyway—but we will no doubt pursue some of these matters later on.
I accept that the Minister is open with the offer of a briefing, but it is the draft regulations that we need to see; it is not briefing on what the theoretical operation of a dual regulatory system might be. We need to see the regulations that would operate that. In the previous group and on the first day in Committee, we heard that the Government have practical solutions, and the Minister has referred to them. But, as the junior to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, indicated, an unprecedented breadth of regulating powers will be provided to Ministers. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, was absolutely right: part of the unprecedented nature that is so egregious is that these will effectively be treaty amendments, and we have the well-established CRaG process for scrutinising and effectively approving treaty amendments.
Finally, the reason why all this is important—it addresses one element of the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—is that the Government accept that they are breaching their commitments and that these are wrongful acts. The Minister shakes his head, but they have.
The Government have admitted that these are breaches of the obligations under the protocol because they have invoked the defence of necessity for wrongful acts. You cannot invoke a defence for a wrongful act if you do not believe that you have committed a wrongful act.
Let us have an extra set of processes if we are now scrutinising alternative proposals. We are holding the Government to account here and trying to scrutinise the information. When we see the draft regulations, I will of course be able to give some thoughts about them—but how on earth can I respond to something that I have not seen? That is what the Government are asking for and why the DPRRC believes that these powers are not appropriate for primary legislation, and I agree.
On the defence of necessity for a wrongful act, the FCDO’s delegated powers memorandum admits that it is breaching its commitments, so this is not me making an assertion. I am sure that the Advocate-General will intervene on me if that is incorrect. I am just referencing the delegated powers memorandum. Even if this is a defence of committing a wrongful act, invoking the International Law Commission’s Article 25 on wrongful acts—and if the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is correct that there are now competing treaty obligations—Article 13 of the protocol allows any other treaty mechanism under the TCA or the withdrawal Act to supersede the protocol. So, if the treaty is competing with other obligations, and if the Government accept the case of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—which they have not—we have put mechanisms into statute to trigger the superseding of the protocol if we wanted to open up new negotiations under the existing treaty. The Government have not signalled that they are willing to do that, so the noble Lord’s case is not particularly strong, even if the Government do not accept it.
In the later groups, we will no doubt return to some of these aspects and points of principle in detail but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 7.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Amendment 8 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: Movement of goods: new law about matters other than customs
My Lords, if Amendment 9 is agreed to, I will not be able to call Amendment 10, by reason of pre-emption.