Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
6: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(2A) A statement may apply to one or more region or nation of the United Kingdom.”Member's explanatory statement
This probing amendment means that a statement can be directed at a specific region or nation.
My Lords, I shall move Amendment 6, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, and speak to Amendment 17, to which she has added her name, Amendments 22 and 23, which are in her name, and Amendments 35 and 40, which are in my own name. I am grateful to noble Lords who have submitted amendments in this group, relating to the very important question of how the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is treated in relation to the nations and regions of the UK.
In the excellent debate in your Lordships’ House on the scrutiny of common frameworks between the nations of the UK, my noble friend Lady Andrews set out the view of the committee that we could face an unfulfilled opportunity to build a more resilient, innovative and equal union. When I spoke for the Opposition at the introduction of the Second Reading of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, I referred to this and the committee’s work and said there was a huge opportunity in the Bill to ensure that we now build on the work of the noble Baroness’s committee, the work of the Dunlop review and the review carried out by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and ensure that levelling up across the nations and regions of the UK becomes an absolute of the Bill. It must not be something that needs to be worked on for years after the Bill has passed to make sure its reach is wide enough geographically, ambitious enough to reach every part of the UK equally, and flexible enough to allow for the diversity of economies, geography and demographics that make up our union.
The Minister set out that this legislation is intended to be enabling legislation but, unless there are mechanisms to enable the legislation to take effect, how can we sure that it will be effective across the nations and regions of the UK? Unfortunately, what appear to have been noble aims towards devolution in the White Paper have not been realised in the Bill, which leans towards centralising, controlling the nations and regions from Whitehall, with little real commitment to fiscal or actual devolution. I am sure that that is not what was intended, but it may happen as a result of what is in the Bill. We simply cannot carry on with a model which sees the UK being the most centralised state in western Europe; nor can we see that exacerbated by this Bill and expect that the feelings of communities across our nations and regions that they are ignored, invisible and treated as second-class citizens will get better.
I have been a passionate advocate of devolution for many years because, in local government, we see the strength and energy when local innovation and energy are harnessed to drive economic, environmental and social development. Too often, however, the powers and funding needed to support this are lacking. There is no better example of this than the experience of local government funding over the last 13 years, which has seen £15 billion stripped out of funding in our communities to be replaced by £2.8 billion of funding from the notorious levelling-up fund. It does not take a mathematical genius to see that this is anything but levelling up.
While some in this House may find parts of Gordon Brown’s report challenging—even on this side of the House—the evidence that he cites from Professor Philip McCann, that half the UK population live in areas no better off than the poorer parts of the former East Germany and are poorer than parts of central and eastern Europe and the poorest states of the USA, is irrefutable nationally recognised evidence. The amendments submitted in relation to ensuring inclusivity of the nations and regions of the UK are a vital part of ensuring that we stop developing the potential of just some of the country and make a real irreversible shift in prosperity. As former Prime Minister Brown says in his report, we want Britain to be
“an equal opportunity economy – where, with the right powers in the right places, every community can play their full part in delivering national prosperity.”
Later this week, we will be considering progress on the recommendations of the Dunlop report. In 2019, the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, made recommendations about how to develop relationships, build trust and improve democratic accountability by
“encouraging a better understanding of the respective roles of the UK and devolved governments, and in particular the UK Government’s role in serving people across the country.”
He urged government towards
“a more predictable and robust process for managing intergovernmental relations”.
Of course, there are many elements to delivering this but to completely leave out of this Bill any reference to how levelling up is to be achieved across our nations and regions seems a huge missed opportunity. I hope that the Minister will consider these amendments with favour as the Bill goes through its Committee stage in your Lordships’ House.
All the amendments in this group relate to that. They talk about the statement of levelling-up missions being referred to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where the whole or greater part of the responsibility lies with Scottish Ministers or Welsh Ministers or the Northern Ireland Executive. The amendments also talk about consulting with representatives of each devolved Administration as the statement comes into effect—indeed, that the statement would only come into effect once that has been done—and that the statement should be approved by Parliament, in consultation with the devolved Administrations. All these amendments are there to make sure that, across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the regions of England, there is proper consultation on any element within the Bill as well as the way that the missions are formed or changed and on whether there is a mission statement that is required by a devolved Administration or a local authority where it relates to a devolved function.
As I say, I hope that the Minister is taking account of these discussions, and I look forward to hearing the debate.
My Lords, I will speak to the amendment tabled in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady Hayman of Ullock. I am most grateful for their support.
The point raised by the amendment goes to a very important constitutional issue. We are not discussing what the levelling-up mission should be but the allocation of responsibilities. It takes us to the heart of the devolution settlements. I have used the word “devolution”, and part of the problem arises from the fact that this Bill deals with devolution—there is a whole section on it—meaning devolution to English councils. Maybe the person who started to think about this Bill forgot that devolution in relation to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is something completely different. I think they failed to recall, first of all, that primary legislative powers in respect of many areas to be covered were passed to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Governments of those countries. I use the word “Governments”, because I think this Government have now got away from the Johnsonian phrase of “Administrations”—no doubt an attempt to belittle them. These Governments have responsibility in very important areas.
I wonder if it might be sensible, for the future, to distinguish between the two senses of the word devolution that this Bill has introduced. Maybe we should talk about “home rule” as part of the union for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or maybe we should talk about it as “national devolution”. We need to distinguish it from English devolution, because that is where the muddle has occurred.
The Minister helpfully sent us the list of subject matters that are to be covered by the mission statements taken from the White Paper. It is quite interesting to look down them and see how they deal with the problem that arises in relation to areas where policy has been partially or completely devolved to the nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. One feels that someone, at some stage, should have understood this.
On education, the White Paper says:
“By 2030, the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.”
But what of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Plainly, at that stage, the person who drafted this had their thinking cap on, because they realised they could not do it. But then one goes on to look at well-being:
“By 2030, well-being will have improved in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing.”
As a statement of motherhood and apple pie, I cannot think of anything better, but the draftsman has plainly forgotten that Wales has its own primary legislation on well-being.
One could go through all aspects of the White Paper and pull out the details, but I raise these points because there is here the issue of how you deal with wishing to make statements that are applicable across the UK while taking into account that the UK Government have no power over certain areas—they are completely or substantially devolved.
As I understand it, the authors of the White Paper—here I think the problem may have arisen—did not understand devolution. They make the statement, at page 121 of the White Paper, that:
“Unless otherwise specified, the missions apply across the whole of the UK.
But then they go on to say that:
“Devolution settlements mean the policy levers”—
extraordinary words to describe the devolution of substantial areas of government—
“for achieving aspects of these missions are devolved to administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Because levelling up outcomes for citizens needs close collaboration between all levels of government, a period of consultation on the missions will be undertaken with devolved administrations. The best way forward on sharing learning and comparing progress in these areas will be agreed with devolved administrations.”
What this does not grapple with—and in consequence the Bill does not grapple with—is on one hand the desire to have a levelling-up map across the whole of the UK and on the other the essential need to accept that, in the case of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the areas of policy that are devolved must be the subject of agreement with the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Without such agreement, there is a real prospect that these mission statements will conflict completely with the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Acts of 1998. These, being constitutional Acts in primary legislation, make clear where the responsibility lies.
This is a very important aspect. We are at a time when circumstances show that we may be able to make a great step in holding our union together. I welcome what the current Prime Minister has done in making it clear he wants to uphold devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and to work constructively with their Governments. One can see that the events of last week have given a real opportunity for this to happen. So it seems to me that this is a golden opportunity for this Government to say, “Okay, we understand devolution”—that would be a great step forward—and, secondly, “We will seek agreement with the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as to how they think there should be missions and what their targets would be, bearing in mind that for those countries that is their responsibility”. If we do not do that, we are throwing away a great opportunity and endangering the union. As the revised legislative consent memorandum laid before the Senedd says, at paragraph 51:
“It is not for UK Government Ministers to set targets for these matters in Wales”.
On that, it is quite right, as a matter of law.
I should hope that there would be co-operation and agreement, and I am not going to get embroiled in who said what to whom. It is for the Minister to tell us what is being done to seek agreement. Where are we going on this? Are we going to have what my amendment proposes—namely, that these statements will not be made in respect of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland unless there is the consent of the devolved Administrations and their legislatures?
If we do not get that, we are plainly into Sewel territory. I think we ought to pause and reflect where we are going with the union. There is this Bill, and there will soon be the retained EU law Bill and the strikes Bill; all contain serious issues in relation to the Sewel convention. We are getting close to the position where it can be said that the Sewel convention is being so undermined that it really is not a convention any longer.
I ask the Government to consider very carefully where we have got to and where they are taking us. The Bill gives them the opportunity to say, “Yes, we acknowledge the fact that, in effect, there is home rule—something completely different from what English councils have—and we will work with the legislatures. We will agree what should be done in a way that will show that this Government are capable and enthusiastic about maintaining the union by accepting we have devolution, where policy powers in these significant areas covered by the Bill were transferred.” That is what my amendment seeks to do.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. They have laid some very important foundations for my Amendment 29 which, I think, will take noble Lords into territory they have not explored before.
I want to make it clear that we strongly support the principle of levelling up. We welcome the analysis in last year’s White Paper as it strongly supports the case that many of us have been pressing for over decades: when policies and state investment are shackled to rigid short-term cost-benefit analysis, the rich will routinely get the investment and the poor will automatically lose out. I illustrated that by reference to investment in green jobs in the last debate. The White Paper identifies the situation in this way:
“In the UK, the depletion of civic institutions, including local government, has gone hand-in-hand with deteriorating economic and social performance.”
I agree with the authors of the White Paper’s analysis of what institutional and government changes are needed, which is to strengthen the civic institutions—including local government—as an important step to reversing the deterioration in economic and social performance.
We also support what the White Paper says about the setting of time-bound targets and long-term missions to achieve them. We strongly believe that those missions must be properly established, monitored and held in common democratic ownership—a point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, was expressing in slightly different language. That, I believe, is exactly in tune with the spirit and the words of the White Paper but, sadly, it is completely missing from the Bill itself. This amendment is designed to improve the Bill and, in turn, make levelling up a reality, not just a slogan. The focus of Amendment 29 is, therefore, on the missions and how they are to be established and by what process they should, over time, evolve. We heard from the Minister earlier on—for that matter, it was reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—that the view in Whitehall is that it should be controlled, managed, described, evaluated and monitored by Whitehall. The way we are proceeding rather tends to suggest that this is the prevailing consensus, though I hope not.
People are frequently heard to say that the missions are set out in the Bill. In fact, the Minister—in what was, no doubt, a slip of the tongue—said exactly that in the previous debate, though she did subsequently refer to the White Paper. The Bill and the White Paper are not the same documents. This House can change the Bill; whether we do remains to be seen but we can, in principle. We cannot change the White Paper and the missions are set out in the White Paper, not the Bill. There are six capitals set out, and the missions enhance the six capitals; then there are five pillars which are what the 12 missions stand on. I have not actually seen the drawing that shows how this all goes together. Anyway, neither the missions, the capitals nor the pillars are in this Bill.
It has also often been said, sometimes by the Front Bench opposite, that the missions will powerfully hold this and future Governments to account. No, they will not; the Bill says that Ministers can chop and change the missions when they see fit. So far, not one of the 12 missions in the White Paper has been approved by Parliament. Indeed, come the autumn, changed circumstances—it might be poll ratings, it might be a new Prime Minister, it might be almost anything these days—might dictate that additional missions should be promulgated, or existing ones cut or modified.
At that time, noble Lords may or may not be allowed to debate the statement when it comes forward, but we certainly will not be invited to amend it, and nor will any of the democratic institutions around the four nations be invited to do so either, notwithstanding what the White Paper has to say. On page 100 it says:
“Local decision making has tended to generate better local economic performance, as local policies are tailored to local needs. There is an empirical correlation between the degree of decentralisation of decision making and … disparities in economic performance”.
I am sure that noble Lords fully understand what that quotation means, but it says in plain words that if you give the decisions to local people, you will get better economic performance.
Unfortunately, that insight has not yet led anybody in Whitehall to consider asking those local decision-makers what missions might work best in their circumstances. That is despite the White Paper setting out one of the five pillars—we have not heard much about the five pillars until a couple of minutes ago—on which this all stands. One of them, set out on page 105, is,
“greater empowerment of local government decision-making”.
I hope that the abrupt reversal of the approach set out in the White Paper with what is actually provided to us in Clause 1 is more a result of traditional Whitehall hubris than of a traditional bait-and-switch trick, where we are all so longingly looking at the promised land of levelling up that we fall right into the hole of rigid centralisation in front of us. That is what the mechanism in Clause 1 does.
Whether it is pride or trickery, the fact of the matter is that it is absolutely contrary to the spirit of the White Paper and its recognition that local decision-making produces better results. This amendment is designed to get back to the words and the spirit of the White Paper and to embed the missions in a democratic countrywide consensus that can survive rotating chairs around the Cabinet table or the perils of the ballot box.
I was not at all impressed by the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that an incoming Labour Government would want all the reins in their hands. Of course they would; anybody running the Government in Whitehall would always want to have all the decisions at their command, but this will succeed or fail on whether it has broad democratic countrywide consensus. It will not work if it has autocratic, top-down authoritarian delivery and decision-making.
The White Paper helps me again, because it reports on page 111 that out of 35 OECD countries in 2016, the UK ranked 14th in sub-national share of total government investment. Our main comparator countries have twice to four times larger a share of their total government investment spent through the sub-national Governments and regions of those countries. With apologies to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, I say that, in this phraseology, sub-national includes Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A direct consequence of that unhealthy small share of investment coming via sub-national decision-makers is that most new initiatives are led by central government, because it has all the money. Of course, that includes how it is intended to be under Clause 1 as drafted, setting all the missions and targets by ministerial diktat and without the opportunity for amendment. They are the missions which everyone else—every other democratic institution in the United Kingdom—is to be beholden to for the next seven years without so much as a by your leave from this Parliament.
Everyone recognises that centralisation of initiatives has not worked out well. Historically, there are many examples. The White Paper says on page 111 that joining up central government policies with the needs of places “has been unusual”. You can say that again. One size does not fit all. The White Paper points out that one size fitting all is not a recipe for success.
The White Paper goes on to say that it is even worse than that:
“In the UK, where policy is … set centrally, silos can hinder coordination.”
There are so many government silos, I have lost count. There are probably 30; it might be more. Of course, those silos fire random policies out at high speed, with very poor guidance systems, and spatter the whole country.
That might not matter if, by some touch of fairy dust, all 12 missions were perfectly formed and equally valid for every part of the UK and every local authority in England. However, that is not the case; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has pointed out two or three examples. Even the White Paper makes it clear, for instance, that mission 9 is “exploratory” and requires “further work”—although I notice that it still has a delivery date of 2030, just seven years away.
The White Paper recognises that Whitehall might need to look for outside help to achieve its intentions, but the Bill completely ignores that hint. The White Paper says:
“Because levelling up outcomes for citizens needs close collaboration between all levels of government, a period of consultation … will be undertaken”.
Let us look in the Bill for the mechanism for a period of consultation. It is not completely absent, but it is absent in at least one very important respect, which I shall come to in a second. Our amendment would simply require a process of gaining the consent of the democratic bodies expected to lead and deliver the policies of the missions, with them having the right to sense-check that those metrics and missions are appropriate to their circumstances and, crucially, where they are not, vary them for that area to match its situation.
It is one thing to consult; it is another thing altogether to take any account of the messages you receive as a consequence of that consultation. We need to rebalance the levelling-up process and create a partnership between national, subregional and local government throughout the United Kingdom, making sure that Westminster and the devolved Administrations are engaged as well. That, of course, should be the route followed whenever Ministers are minded to add to, change, delete or reprogramme missions in future. It would make the missions the product of a nationwide process, where their ownership is in the hands not just of the Secretary of State for the time being—we had four last year—but of an established consensus, where those missions and their implementation are tailored to the different circumstances and cultures not just of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales but within England as well. Our amendment sets out how that should happen, in terms of consultation with the relevant devolved Administration Ministers and with local government in England.
I take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that there are two sorts of devolution—legislatively, there are two forms. Devolution to the devolved Administrations occurs by putting primary legislation in place and is immutable until there is more primary legislation. Devolution to anything in England is just a figment of fashion at the time; it is not embedded in the legislation we have. That makes it all the more important that when Ministers are expressing a view about what the priorities for those authorities should be, they not only consult them but give them the opportunity to comment and amend, in so far as is reasonably practicable.
I believe that this is an essential step in delivering levelling up. It is wholly consistent with the analysis in the White Paper—which, sadly, Clause 1 most emphatically is not. More to the point, it would build and restore the partnerships that will be essential in the long term if we are ever to get near to the praiseworthy outcomes the Government and ourselves wish to see.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 17, which was so well introduced by my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. I will add a few words to emphasise points he has already made. I should declare an interest here: I co-chair the Bevan Commission, which advises the Welsh Government on health issues.
It is incredibly important to recognise that the Governments of Wales, Scotland and, to a certain extent—one hopes it will be fully restored—Northern Ireland have legislative-making powers. Several Acts of Parliament have given them specific powers that have expanded, and they can write their strategy and the way it will be implemented. That is completely different and goes much further than any regions in England, which are quite separate.
The point of this amendment is to move away from simply consultation, which might sound nice and tokenistic and involve signing off, to actually having proper co-production. It needs to be in the Bill to ensure that whichever Government is in place in future, as this legislation sits on the statute book, the relevant Governments will work together to meet whatever the missions are that are then determined over time.
It is important to look, as has already been referred to, at page 121 of the White Paper, which stresses that
“two of the missions are overarching, outcomes-based measures of success for levelling up”.
These are boosting living standards and pay and improving measures of well-being across every part of the UK. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 has been viewed as really ground-breaking and leading the way for Wales—way ahead of other parts of the United Kingdom. It has influenced the way decisions are made in many walks of life, which people living outside Wales are completely unaware of.
The remaining missions are viewed as intermediate outcomes. As has already been said:
“Unless otherwise specified, the missions apply across the whole of the UK. Devolution settlements mean the policy levers for achieving aspects of these missions are devolved to administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
I really worry about that wording, because it is not strong enough to recognise the strategic responsibilities and the responsibilities of the devolved Governments in making legislation to fundamentally influence the way that people within their own nations live.
My concern is that, if we do not move completely to co-production of the way these missions are to be interpreted, we will end up with increasing fragmentation across the United Kingdom, rather than increasing coming together. As has already been said, one hopes that there is a glimmer of light, that we might actually be back to consolidating as a United Kingdom: the four nations working together really well, recognising differences, respecting different policies and all wanting the best for the well-being of the whole population of the whole of the United Kingdom. That is what levelling up should be about. It should be about benefiting everybody.
If arguments ensue over the way in which something is perceived to be being directed, or not, there will be dissent, which could be a recipe for a disaster—and it is completely avoidable. I therefore hope that the Government will look favourably on these amendments and table an amendment of their own later to ensure that that co-production is in place.
To illustrate this, a comment that really struck me was at the end of the White Paper, where there are all the ambitions for the different regions and nations—they are there for Scotland and they are there for Wales. However, it struck me as slightly odd that they were all put in together, rather than having the devolved nations separately and then the regions of England stated. This is not to criticise the ambitions—we all need ambitions and things to aim for to improve—but I think that the differentiation between Governments who have primary and secondary legislation responsibilities and the ability of local authorities to move money around in different ways needs to be included in the Bill.
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendments 22 and 23, with the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. These deal with the issue of consent, which I think is crucial to the way in which this problem should be addressed.
Living where I do, north of the border, one of the things that I tend to do when confronted with a Bill is to look at the clause near the end which describes its extent. As happened in the case of this Bill, I started at the front and read through Part 1 and then on into the other parts and so on. When I came to the extent provision, I was astonished to find that Part 1 applied to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, because there is not a hint in the wording of Part 1 that these different Administrations exist. They are not mentioned at all; there is no mention whatever of consultation. That is the reason why, when I saw these amendments, I was extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this issue of consent.
I am also a member of the Constitution Committee, which examined the way in which the whole of the United Kingdom is governed. One of the issues we of course looked at was devolution. There were two words at the start of our report which highlighted the message we wished to convey: “respect” and “co-operation”. The Government welcomed our report, and I think they recognised the value of these two words. However, look at Part 1 and ask yourself what it is saying about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; I see very little sign of respect and certainly no sign of co-operation at all. That is a matter of extreme concern, which is why I think it is necessary for some reference to be made as to how the relationships between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations are to be dealt with.
Mention has been made of the nature of devolution to these different parts of the United Kingdom. I should mention one aspect which is special to Scotland: it has tax-raising powers that it exercises. We in Scotland pay our own tax—at a higher rate, I may say—to fund the matters that the Scottish Government deal with. These include health, housing, education and crime, which are all matters listed in the annexe to the White Paper. This raises the question as to how you can possible reconcile the spending aims of the Scottish Government, which are evolved so that they make up their budget for tax-raising, with the United Kingdom spending money in those same areas without consultation. With the prospect of two bodies spending money in the same areas, which they have the power to do, it would be very strange indeed if they did not at least consult with each other to see that they were not duplicating effort. Consultation is not merely a matter of proper governance; it is a matter of common sense.
That having been said, there are aspects of the levelling-up list which I very much welcome. Mention was made at the very beginning of our debate of the extent to which it was hoped that money could be spent in Scotland to level up in that area. There are certainly aspects of the list—well-being, skills, digital connectivity, transport and so on—where money could be spent without, as it were, duplicating effort in areas which are plainly devolved to the Scottish Government. There is at least something here that I welcome, but without the provision of consultation to avoid confusion and duplication of effort, I do not see how the matter can be properly handled. I am very much in support of the two amendments I have mentioned.
As for consent, I am a little troubled as to whether it is not risking too much to expect the consent of the Scottish Government for areas where the United Kingdom would wish to spend money for well-being which are outside the competence of the devolved Administration. I have mentioned one or two: digital connectivity is not devolved, and “pride in place” and such things are very broad. They are good ideas which probably do not run into the problem of spending money on areas that are devolved. However, to expect the Scottish Government, who believe in independence, to consent to this is I think asking a little too much. I would be a little concerned that, if we put in consent as a necessary requirement, the Scots would be deprived of something that many Scots would want but which the Scottish Government would not like for their own particular reasons.
I am cautious about that, but I am very much in favour of consultation; it is crucial. I hope that the Minister can find a way to put consultation in the Bill in the form which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has suggested.
My Lords, I apologise for not having spoken at Second Reading of this Bill.
I will speak to Amendments 17 and 29, to which I have added my name. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for tabling Amendment 17, which is designed to allow us to debate the role of the devolved Administrations when they believe that the UK Government are acting in areas for which they are responsible. I think that we have had that debate this evening. I thank my noble friend Lord Stunell for tabling Amendment 29, which seeks to ensure that the relevant devolved Administration or local authority is consulted where a mission relates to a devolved function, and that the mission can be amended at the request of the devolved authority.
Unfortunately, this Bill is typical of those laid after 2019. There has been very little engagement by the UK Government with the Welsh Government prior to its introduction in the other place. That is a little disappointing, because the more consensual approach of the current Prime Minister cannot be applied retrospectively to the Bill. His phone call to the heads of the devolved Governments on his appointment to the role, and his subsequent attendance at the British-Irish Council, have been welcomed and have set a tone which is an improvement on what has been the case for the last few years.
Had there been more dialogue between the two Governments during the early stages of the production of the Bill, the Welsh Government would certainly have made a strong case against their inclusion in Part 1. As they say in their LCM,
“the purpose of the provisions”
relating to reducing geographical disparities
“do not relate to any reserved matters under the Government of Wales Act 2006”.
In other words, there is no doubt that the issues regarding missions are not reserved matters, and are therefore within the devolved competence of the Welsh Government.
If one looks at the 12 levelling up missions, one sees that almost every one falls within a devolved competence: economic development, transport, education, training, health, the environment, planning—with some exceptions —culture and housing are all devolved. It seems perverse that the UK Government should choose to legislate in these areas, setting targets and standards where the responsibility and duty to do so already rests with the Welsh Government.
It is not as if the Welsh Government do not have the ability or capacity to write their own version of Part 1. As has already been referred to, the Senedd passed the Well-being of Future Generations Act in 2015, designed to improve the well-being of everyone in Wales and addressing inequalities. It already contains some of the elements of Part 1 of the Bill. The Act provides a legislative framework to improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being for the people of Wales through annual reporting, indicators, milestones and the setting of objectives to shape delivery. Crucially, the Welsh Government have appointed a future generations commissioner to ensure that goals are retained and reported on. That is perhaps needed in the Bill, as was referred to in earlier debates this afternoon.
As an aside, I point out that this Welsh Government have nearly 20 years’ experience of designing EU schemes and administering EU funds. The stance taken here by the UK Government ignores their expertise and, quite frankly, could be described as disrespectful. I agree strongly with the Welsh Minister for Climate Change, who said—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has already referred to this—
“It is not for UK Government Ministers to set targets for these matters in Wales, nor to report on achieving these to the UK Parliament.”
It is the Welsh Government’s view that the Senedd could pass equivalent provisions to those contained in Part 1. It is therefore unlikely that the Welsh Minister will recommend that the Senedd consents to the provisions in the Bill.
As usual, my noble friend’s amendment is an elegant solution, as it gives the UK Government the opportunity to recognise and respect devolved settlements by agreeing to consult Welsh Ministers and to amend a mission at their request. My preference would obviously be to see both sides around the table, talking about this issue and coming to an agreed position. But, given the distinct lack of engagement by the UK Government with the Welsh Government, I cannot really see this happening. I hope that the Minister will prove me wrong.
I rise as a Scot who has followed legislation to do with Scotland for many years. I have followed the recommendation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead: I have gone to the last paragraph and been astonished at the application of Clause 1 to Scotland.
In particular, I rise because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has raised the question of home rule. As I recollect it, my grandfather was one of those who founded a political party calling for home rule in Scotland, which I think we have at the moment. But there is a difference between legislative and locally based government devolution. One is contained in the Scotland Act. If I am not mistaken, something to do with the latter will have a legal basis after the Bill is passed. I remember that some of those promoting the Act on devolution in 1998 were keen to tell us that we were getting a process, not a final destination.
In Scotland, the SNP has set its policy that devolution is just a step to independence. It was determined that it would mean an equivalent to independence in all but name, and it tested that by putting its proposal for a constitutional Bill on independence to the Supreme Court. The judgment has made clear what the Act means and has introduced a less than recent level of expectation in Scotland. I would not like to be in the Government’s shoes because they have to act as the prime legislative originator but need to make every effort not to do it in a way that can be taken as being rude.
My Lords, I shall start by responding to a couple of the speeches that noble Lords have made this evening. First, I am delighted to hear references to home rule in this Chamber. Secondly, I wish to clarify that the Welsh Government also have tax-raising powers, and that raises all the issues that exist in Scotland.
I want to address Amendments 17 and 29 specifically and to dwell on the fact that there is an astonishing lack of understanding of devolution in the Bill, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, made clear. When I was a Minister in the Wales Office, one of our roles was to go round departments and to remind officials, and occasionally even Ministers, about devolution. Sometimes, we had to gently tell Ministers that their brief was actually Minister for England only. It is some years since then—it is eight years on—and the story of devolution should have permeated more deeply into government. Actually, I do not believe that the people who wrote the Bill did not understand devolution. I think they were probably under instructions not to understand devolution, and that is much more worrying.
Earlier this evening, while many noble Lords here were out grabbing a bite to eat, I had a Motion to Regret before this House. My regret hinged on the fact that the regulations concerned—they were highly technical so I will not go into them—removed the obligation on the Secretary of State and the Competition and Markets Authority to consult the devolved Administrations. That was an obligation taken for granted when we debated the Subsidy Control Act and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, the Acts from which the regulations stemmed. Both these Acts interrelate closely with devolved powers over economic development.
Tomorrow, we will debate the minimum service levels Bill, and the Welsh Government report a total lack of prior consultation on minimum service levels, even though the services affected are devolved. Most of the services listed in that Bill are devolved: education, health, fire and rescue and most of transport. So, a lack of consultation is already a theme in relationships between this Government and the devolved Administrations, and that is why these amendments are so important. Levelling up relies largely on economic development, transport and education, which are all devolved issues. If it is to work, it is fundamental that the devolved nations are fully integrated as part of the process because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, explained, the devolved Administrations already have their own primary legislation on many of these topics, and they are obviously not entirely at one with this Bill.
The pandemic demonstrated to the whole UK on television at 10 pm each night that key services are run very differently in each country, with a different ethos and a different personality. What united them was the common desire to control the virus and minimise deaths. To do that, consultation was vital on a daily basis. There is no reason why the consultation should not be there in the long term on issues of this importance.
My Lords, we have had a really good debate on something as fundamental as the meaning of devolution. Throughout today we have been thinking about definitions of words. Devolution certainly needs to be redefined by the Government in their Bill. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, rightly pointed out, devolution can mean home rule, self-government or something quite different: devolution to the English regions. Throughout the Bill the Government clearly have stepped on the standing of the Governments in Scotland, Wales and on occasion, Northern Ireland, who rightly have legislative rights to determine their own way on many of the missions in the Government’s White Paper. That needs to be resolved on the face of the Bill, otherwise confusion will continue to reign.
The second big issue was raised by my noble friend Lord Stunell: devolution to the lowest possible level. What he said was really important. Obviously Whitehall never knows best, but the evidence shows that greater empowerment of local government and local people leads to better economic outcomes. Local decision-making sorting out local problems and finding local solutions gets better results. As he rightly pointed out, the White Paper is a rich source of evidence to support that proposition. True devolution will mean turning the Bill on its head and making sure that local areas are making changes and responding to the progress made, rather than the top-down approach we always get from this Government and others.
My Lords, Amendments 6, 17, 22, 23, 29, 35 and 40 in this group relate to our levelling-up work across the entire United Kingdom and how we work with the devolved Governments on the missions, including their delivery and our reporting. They have been tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Taylor of Stevenage, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell.
While I note the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, about the centralised nature of the UK, we have been, and remain, very clear that levelling up can succeed only as a shared national project. Evidence tells us that the drivers for reducing disparities span devolved and reserved levers and that all levers need to be deployed for a place to reach its full potential.
As an aside, and because the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, raised the recent debate on the report of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee, to which I responded, I can reassure her that discussions continue to address some of the issues that were raised in that debate. The levelling-up missions are defined in terms of reducing geographical disparities across the whole of the UK, thereby rendering the obligations set out in the Bill indivisible among the different nations. That is why the extent of the Bill is indeed the whole of the UK.
The UK Government and devolved Governments share a common ambition to deliver the best possible outcomes for people across the United Kingdom: to make sure that they can live longer and more fulfilling lives and benefit from a sustained rise in living standards and well-being. We all want to make sure that opportunity is spread more evenly across the whole country. While the ways we articulate and measure these objectives, and our activities to deliver them, may differ sometimes, these ambitions are shared at the highest level.
As the levelling-up White Paper made clear, we respect the devolution settlements and are keen to work together to share learning and evidence with each other about what works across the UK, making the most of the unique opportunities for learning that devolution affords. In this spirit, officials have actively been seeking the views of devolved Administration officials, including discussing how our mission framework relates to their own frameworks for place-based growth. We can ultimately achieve these ambitions only by working together and by recognising that different levels of government hold different levers to drive change. In many cases, these levers are more powerful when they are aligned. Where there are clearly overlaps, we are keen to step up collaborative working to achieve our common aims, learning from each other and ensuring that we draw links between the work we are doing at all levels. On the co-production that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, hopes for, I can reassure her that we will continue this engagement over the coming months. Minister Davison will be meeting with devolved government Ministers in the coming weeks. In parallel, senior policy officials from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are meeting with senior officials from the devolved Administrations.
As I have said, our missions set our ambitions for the whole of the country. Delivering against these will require close working with the devolved Governments to ensure that everyone benefits. Current geographical disparities do not respect national boundaries within the UK and need to be tackled as a whole. We recognise that some of the missions cover areas that are devolved. The purpose of the missions is not to alter existing areas of responsibility but to align and co-ordinate how different areas of government can work together towards a common goal. We are committed to working with the devolved Governments to align policy and work towards a goal shared by everyone: to reduce geographical disparities across the whole of the UK. We will work to share evidence and lessons from across the country, learning what works and what does not.
This Government, I can reassure noble Lords, are fully committed to the Sewel convention and will continue to seek legislative consent and work with the devolved Governments on all Bills that engage the legislative consent process. I was encouraged by noble Lords’ comments about Prime Minister Sunak’s reaching out to the devolved Governments so early on in his tenure. I know that there have been issues about engagement with the devolved Governments at an earlier stage in the Bill, and I am disappointed to hear that recent Bills have not had that early engagement, but I will continue to raise this issue in the Secretary of State for Wales’s ministerial meetings. I do take on board the hope of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that this is a golden opportunity for the UK Government, and I hope he is reassured that we are actively engaged in making devolution work and avoiding the disaster that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, worries about.
Amendment 29, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, also requires that English principal councils be consulted on any missions relating to their functions. I reiterate that the Bill is designed to establish the framework for missions, not the content of missions themselves. The framework provides ample opportunity to scrutinise the substance of missions against a range of government policies. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and that areas will want to choose the right model for them. Local government in England is a vital partner in taking forward the levelling-up missions. Local and combined authorities play a critical role across all the missions, and our mission on local leadership—which sets out our aim for every area of England that wants one to have a devolution deal by 2030—will see further powers, funding and flexibilities devolved to local leaders who are best placed to address the unique opportunities and challenges that exist in their places.
In light of these efforts and commitments, my acknowledgment that this is very much a work in progress, and our conversations with all the devolved Governments, I ask that the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, I will make a request of her. I have been encouraged by her generous and soothing words, but when we get to this point on Report, does she think that it will be possible for the Welsh, Scottish and UK Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive to write to tell us where they have got to on an agreement, because we need to know? If they have got somewhere, I would say hurrah, but if they have not, maybe we need to think again about some form of amendment. I live in hope, and I hope that the Minister will be able to ensure that these words will be addressed to the other Governments as well, so they can make transparent what we all want: co-operation and agreement.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to what has been a thoughtful and interesting debate on this very key topic on the Bill. I will come back to the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, from the Constitution Committee, about respect and co-operation, which are absolutely key to making this work across the four nations and the regions of the UK. I add my support to the suggestion from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, who asked the Minister if, when we get to Report, we could have a letter from the nations of the UK discussing what has been done and the level of co-operation on this subject. That is a very helpful suggestion, for which I am grateful.
We have heard a really clear explanation of what brought these amendments forward: our concern about devolution being completely different for nations which have their own law-making powers and, in some cases, tax-raising powers, and how important it is to distinguish between that and what are, in fact, powers of competency offered to local government under the same word, “devolution”. We have to be cautious of that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, warned us to be cautious about how consent can be achieved, that consultation is always a better option—I agree—and how funding will be allocated for the purpose of areas outside of competencies. On the experience of local government around funding, we need to be very careful about the boundaries we set between funding for areas that are the subject of law-making in our nations and the funding for areas of competency that come under Bill. We would all want to be cautious about that.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, for her explanation of what is happening in Wales. There is a lot to learn from Wales: earlier, we heard a powerful speech about child poverty, the future generations commissioner—about whom we have already heard—and the way that, in Wales, a well-being provision is set in law. These are very good lessons for us to learn from, and I hope that we will not miss that opportunity.
The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, also urged the Minister to get around the table. I am encouraged by the Minister’s comments on what has taken place so far, but it has not been very clear, as we have gone through the preparation for the Bill, what has happened. That is why I support the suggestion from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that we have some indication of how that is being worked on.
We must not miss this opportunity—it has been described as a golden opportunity, and I think it could be—to strengthen the union, and not fragment it, by imbedding the missions in a countrywide and democratic consensus. From what the Minister has said, that seems to be the Government’s intention. I hope that is what will happen because, if it does not, it will be subject to fragmentation.
I spoke about learning from the nations of the UK. I am sure that as well as the specific Welsh examples we have heard here today, there will be examples from Scotland and Northern Ireland that we can learn from, as well as from the English regions. I hope that will be part of the levelling-up experience going forward.
We should not miss the opportunity to instigate a proper debate about the quality of public service delivery, from departments delivering non-devolved services as well as examples of quality where they are delivered in the nations where power is devolved—that will be really important. We do not want to go forward with “one size fits all”. I am still concerned about some of the centralising aspects of the Bill. They come later in the Bill and no doubt we will hear about them in future discussions. However, there is very little in the Bill on funding, which concerned me. We need to know more about the national development plans and how they link in with local plans because, across our nations and regions, that could have the potential to be a centralising factor if we are not careful. Around the models of devolution, I hope they will be flexible to allow areas to have the type of devolution that is wanted and that works for those areas. In addition, there does not seem to be any clear mechanism to draw together the work of government departments in the work of levelling up. I hope that that is set out somewhere clearly, but it did not seem very clear as we went through the stages of preparing for the Bill.
There are some real opportunities here, but there are some real pitfalls that we could fall into—I think they were described that way earlier. As we aim towards levelling up, we fall into the crater of centralisation, making things more centralised in this country, which is the last thing we need. It has been articulated very clearly in this debate that if we really are to level up the country, the best decisions are made at local level. I am a passionate believer in that, and I want to see that work, whether it is in our four nations or in our regions. I hope we can continue to work towards that. There will be more work to do on this, as has been articulated very clearly by the Minister, therefore I beg leave to withdraw my amendment at this stage. However, I am sure there are further discussions to be held on this over the coming weeks and months.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.