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Grand Committee

Volume 809: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2021

Grand Committee

Tuesday 26 January 2021

The Grand Committee met in a hybrid proceeding.

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the Room to wear a face covering except when seated at their desk, to speak sitting down and to wipe down their desk, chair and any other touch points before and after use. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded, or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes.

Fertilisers and Ammonium Nitrate Material (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Fertilisers and Ammonium Nitrate Material (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2021.

My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register.

This instrument has two main purposes. It makes technical amendments to the Fertilisers and Ammonium Nitrate Material (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which I will refer to as the exit SI, to correct deficiencies that have arisen in light of the Northern Ireland protocol. It also applies the provisions of the retained EU law version of Regulation (EC) No. 2003/2003 to Northern Ireland, subject to modifications. This will enable the marketing of UK fertilisers in Northern Ireland, which was the original intention of the exit SI before the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed. The exit SI made in 2019 amended the retained version of EU Regulation (EC) No. 2003/2003, so it operates effectively in the UK now, after EU exit. It replaced the “EC fertiliser” label with a new “UK fertiliser” label, which will function in the same way.

The UK fertiliser regime would have operated across the whole of the United Kingdom from the end of the transition period. However, it was made in February 2019, before the Northern Ireland protocol was agreed. As a consequence of the protocol, the EU law version of Regulation (EC) No. 2003/2003 and the EC fertiliser regime it provides for will continue to apply in Northern Ireland, and the UK fertiliser regime provided for in the retained EU law version of this regulation will not. I hope it will be helpful if I say that, to remedy this, this instrument applies the provisions of the retained EU law version of Regulation (EC) No. 2003/2003 in GB to Northern Ireland, subject to modifications, in order to enable UK fertilisers to continue to be marketed in Northern Ireland.

By way of context, the regulatory framework for the manufacture and sale of fertilisers is unusual, compared to other agricultural products, as fertilisers are partially harmonised at EU level. This means that member states can operate their own domestic regulatory regimes alongside the European regulation of the EC fertiliser regime provided for in the EU regulation. Accordingly, alongside the EC fertiliser regime, Great Britain and Northern Ireland have historically operated separate domestic regulatory regimes under the Fertilisers Regulations 1991 and the Fertilisers Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992, respectively. Manufacturers in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland are free to choose which framework they use to market their products, although they must comply with the requirements of that regime—for example, they would need to be established within the EU or Northern Ireland to sell EC fertilisers in Northern Ireland.

The key provision of this instrument is to ensure that the retained GB version of EU Regulation (EC) No. 2003/2003, which allows products to be marketed as a UK fertiliser, applies in Northern Ireland, as was originally intended in the exit SI made in 2019. Because of the partial harmonisation of fertiliser legislation, making the UK fertiliser regime applicable in Northern Ireland does not affect the continued application of the EU version of Regulation (EC) No. 2003/2003, which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland by virtue of the protocol.

This statutory instrument is important, as a common route to market across the UK for fertilisers is required so that a manufacturer in Great Britain who trades only in the UK can market products across Great Britain and Northern Ireland and use one label to do this. If products labelled as UK fertiliser could no longer be marketed in Northern Ireland, there could be significant costs for businesses in an industry with low profit margins. There are particular concerns that, without this SI, the supply of certain products that are specifically regulated under this regime—for example, DMPSA, a nitrification inhibitor—would reduce, and this could impact on the sustainability of food production. Failure to provide for this may also result in a general reduction in the supply of fertiliser products to Northern Ireland from manufacturers who are established in Great Britain and who are no longer able to place EC fertilisers on the market. It is therefore necessary to ensure that UK fertilisers can be marketed in both Great Britain and in Northern Ireland.

In summary, the technical amendments this instrument makes relating to the Northern Ireland protocol are straightforward. Under the protocol, the EU law version of Regulation (EC) No. 2003/2003 continues to apply in Northern Ireland following the end of the transition period. This instrument reflects its GB application by removing references to Northern Ireland that are no longer relevant from the retained EU law version, such as in the definitions of “appropriate authority” and “enforcement authority”. The remaining provisions in this instrument enable the marketing of UK fertilisers in Northern Ireland.

We worked with the devolved Administrations on this statutory instrument, and they have given their consent. This instrument is necessary because it makes technical amendments in light of the Northern Ireland protocol and will ensure that we can continue to operate a unified fertiliser regime across the UK. I beg to move.

I thank the Minister for providing the Grand Committee with a comprehensive explanation of this SI, which he has given in his normal courteous and lucid manner. As he said, this SI is not particularly controversial, but it is certainly fiendishly complicated in places. I am a great supporter of science having a major role in agriculture, horticulture and associated activities, but it is very important—I know the Minister agrees with me on this—that any such use is carefully monitored because there could be a knock-on effect into the future. I will come back to this point in a moment.

It is our task, as a legislature, to examine SIs and ensure that they match the Executive’s declared intent. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee looked at this SI on 5 January and decided not to draw it to the attention of the House. That is a fair indication that it contains only what we believed to be there. Therefore, that is a second line of defence, and it gives us some guidance.

There is no impact assessment for this SI because, as stated, it has been judged that

“no significant, impact on the private, voluntary or public sector is foreseen.”

Therefore, in the light of these assurances, I am inclined to accept the SI at face value, but there are a couple of things that I should like to raise with the Minister.

I was reassured that once we get past January 2023 and are dealing with only UK fertilisers, the language used will be English for all fertilisers sold in the UK. It is important that farmers can see how to use the fertilisers and at what levels. May I ask about a small point on that? What is the position in Northern Ireland? I understand that with the Northern Ireland protocol there is some distinction, but is any of the fertiliser which might be shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland likely to end up in the Republic of Ireland? If so, how does that affect the labelling?

My last point—I do not think I will take up my full time—is about ammonium nitrate, especially ammonium nitrate fertilisers, which may contain more than 28% nitrogen. I do not want to labour this too much but, bearing in mind the terrible explosion in Beirut, does the Minister feel that sufficient guidance is given in this SI and associated ones about the storage of ammonium nitrate fertilisers, which can have such devastating effects in terms of explosions, as opposed to in their use as fertilisers?

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for presenting the regulations and his introduction to them. As the noble Lord, Lord Clark, just suggested, they are fiendishly complicated so I hope my noble friend will permit me to ask a couple of questions relating directly to how they will apply and on a couple of other matters relating to fertilisers more broadly.

Looking specifically at paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, if my understanding is correct, this says clearly—and my noble friend referred to this—that an EU manufacturer must have a manufacturing base in the EU to be able to import into Northern Ireland, whereas a manufacturer in Great Britain will be able to continue to export to Northern Ireland but will have to produce one label for export to Northern Ireland and make separate provision for continuing to export to the rest of the European Union. Could my noble friend confirm that that is the case?

I was contacted by the AIC, which deals in seed and agricultural production. It suggested that there will be a two-year transitional period, during which businesses will be able to continue to manufacture and sell material labelled as an EC fertiliser under Regulation 2003/2003 for use in Great Britain, provided that those products conform to EU standards. Will my noble friend confirm that that is just for a two-year period and what happens at the end of it?

Also, will the UK fertiliser manufacturers hoping to export to the EU and Northern Ireland need to be established within the EU or Northern Ireland, as I mentioned, and will products have to be labelled accordingly with the EU-established manufacturer or importer as appropriate? Presumably that will be an additional cost to the UK fertiliser manufacturer. I ask because paragraph 3.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum clearly states that there should be not so much no increased costs, but no increased obligations on businesses. However, there would certainly seem to be the cost of producing these labels.

I have two rather more technical points. Detonation-resistance testing for the production and importation of high-concentration ammonium nitrate is a legal requirement, but this is now limited to a single UK-based laboratory, which apparently lacks the capacity to meet demand. The nature of the product additionally limits its easy transport between countries by courier. There is, I understand, a current derogation of two years to allow European-sourced ammonium nitrate to continue to be tested in EU accredited laboratories. Clearly this derogation must be extended to allow testing in any accredited ISO laboratory.

Finally, the UK now has oversight of its trade remedies through its countermeasures policy. Presumably our Trade Remedies Authority, when it is up and running, will be in charge of this. The application to the UK of existing trade remedies on urea ammonium nitrate from the USA, Russia and Trinidad and Tobago is due to terminate, so urea ammonium nitrate will not be subject to the EU-imposed anti-dumping duties, though I gather that the anti-dumping duty on ammonium nitrate from Russia will still apply. I understand that these latter two points probably go broader than Defra, but I would be keen for my noble friend to write to me for our better understanding of how this applies to these regulations, particularly for those volatile products to which the noble Lord, Lord Clark, referred.

With those comments, I am delighted to consider the SI this afternoon and look forward to hearing my noble friend’s response.

I too thank the Minister for setting out clearly and in detail the purpose of these regulations and their application in Northern Ireland. I shall preface detailed consideration of the regulations with a couple of general remarks, which I am sure the Committee will understand.

While these regulations are highly technical, they are another piece of the jigsaw of legislation required purely as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol. They amend previous regulations which, as the Minister said, applied to the whole of the United Kingdom and were passed to take care of the situation in the event of a no-deal exit from the European Union. I remind noble Lords that many of us find the need for this kind of legislation—amending legislation that applies to the whole of the UK and making specific provision for Northern Ireland—deeply objectionable in principle, to put it mildly. It is having to be done to implement a protocol over which no one in Northern Ireland had any say or any vote. It is important to make that point over and over again on these regulations because they are important. Laws will be made in this Parliament of ours that will, effectively, mean that new regulations, in this and many other areas, can be made in Brussels. They will then come into force in Northern Ireland without anyone at Westminster or Stormont, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, having any input or vote on them. That is a bizarre and unacceptable way of making laws for part of the United Kingdom. It is certainly not taking back control.

Turning to the detail, these regulations do two things. First, they allow for the continued application in Northern Ireland of the European regulation on the EC fertiliser regime. Secondly, since under EU law there can, as the Minister said, be a dual regime for fertilisers, they enable UK fertilisers, so labelled, to be marketed in Northern Ireland. This part of the statutory instrument is very welcome—there will be a UK-wide regulatory regime for the marketing of UK fertilisers and it means that manufacturers in Great Britain can market their products across the United Kingdom, both in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Of course, EC fertilisers can still be marketed in Northern Ireland alongside that.

I note that the devolved Administrations have been consulted and have consented to the making of the instrument. I further understand, having made some investigation in the matter, that officials are currently preparing an implementing instrument that will fully implement in Northern Ireland the provisions of the UK retained law to allow for both the manufacture and marketing of UK fertilisers in Northern Ireland.

I close by asking the Minister, given the degree of consensus on this instrument, and on a more general but relevant note, whether he anticipates being able to obviate and alleviate some of the difficulties. I put that mildly—there are really difficult consequences concerning movement of agriculture-related products between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Can he give some reassurance that producers and consumers will get some relief from some of the current problems in moving such goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland?

The situation since 1 January has, as noble Lords will know, caused considerable consternation to many, and extra cost and hardship. One reason the Minister gave for advocating these regulations was that they would save costs and keep products on the market in Northern Ireland. That should apply right across the board, so I would be grateful if the Government would commit to doing everything in their power to overcome the current obstructions and restrictions and permit unfettered trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear explanation of this SI. I have three brief sets of points to make. Given that the SI is about the management of fertilisers and ammonium nitrate material, an intensely environmental issue, I hope the Committee will forgive me if I take a minute to reflect on this morning’s news about the delay of many months to the Environment Bill. My inbox is full of expressions of fury and disbelief. When we are the chair of COP 26, this can be described only as very depressing and embarrassing. There is a huge legislative lacuna, a gaping gap in UK law, and it sends a message about the importance with which the Government regard environmental issues in this hugely nature-depleted, polluted and contaminated land. Work on the Bill began in July 2018. We will potentially go into the biodiversity COP in October without that law, and it may even be a scrape to get it in before COP 26 itself starts.

I have two questions for the Minister, although I understand that he may not be able to answer them now. What will happen with the Office for Environmental Protection and what will happen about giving farmers certainty about applying the fertilisers we are talking about now, in terms of environmental land management schemes? My second question concerns the fact that we are now discussing artificial fertilisers. The Committee may remember my interest in soil science, so I hope Members will give me for venturing a little into that.

There was an old Italian proverb in the 1930s that said that artificial fertiliser was “good for the father and bad for the son”. That was about the environmental damage—the level of soil damage—done by artificial fertilisers. Having just come out of the Oxford Real Farming Conference and heard lots of excellent things about soil, and having seen reports from its companion, the Oxford Farming Conference, there is increasing understanding of the impact of nitrogen fertilisers, not just on the climate emergency—nitrous oxide has 298 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and stays in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years—but also on soil structure. In healthy soils, with low levels of nitrogen, one sees that microbes do not metabolise carbon compounds but instead excrete them as polymers that act as a glue holding the soil together. Of course, we are seeing, with the floods around the UK now, some of the huge damage that the loss of soils can do, when we do not have that soil structure.

I come to a specific point about this SI, and I follow the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who, with her customary depth and grasp of detail, asked some detailed and important questions. I particularly pick up the point she raised about paragraph 7.3 in the Explanatory Memorandum, which says:

“Manufacturers who currently market ‘EC fertilisers’ in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland will need to be established in the EU to continue to market ‘EC fertilisers’ in Northern Ireland”.

This seems to be a pattern we often see, so what advice are the Government giving potential or current manufacturers? Are people being told to take their business out of the UK and to set up in the EU? Have the Government made any assessment of the economic and job impacts in this industry and more broadly?

I want to raise a related point with the Minister; I would be happy to share the source with him later. There is a report from the Belfast News Letter which reflects some of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. It is about peat and it quotes Robin Mercer from the Hillmount Garden Centre, who said that it is

“now illegal to import a plant which contains on its roots any soil or bark-based peat-free compost”,

but legal to import, albeit with lots of paperwork, plants that are contained within peat. I am sure the Minister is well aware of the issues around peat and the need to move away from peat-based compost. Will he look into this and see whether there is any way to ensure that we are not encouraging, through this and other statutory instruments relating to the end of the Brexit transition period, environmental damage through agricultural practices?

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and I too thank the Minister for his detailed and comprehensive explanation of these regulations, which are a direct result of the UK leaving the European Union—that is the plain and simple fact. I have several questions for the Minister. If he cannot provide answers today, I will be content to get them in writing.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, I have a concern about unfettered access for imports from Britain to Northern Ireland. I fully recognise that the protocol has to be fully implemented, so what work are the UK Government carrying out with the EU and the Northern Ireland Executive, plus Assembly, to ensure that there are no further wrinkles or problems to be encountered by importers or local businesses in Northern Ireland? That will simply add further costs and burdens for many retailers and consumers. What will be the exact role of the Northern Ireland Executive and DAERA in overseeing the implementation of the regulations?

A Defra consultation document on reducing ammonia emissions from solid urea fertilisers, published in November 2020, is due to be concluded today—26 January. Have there been many responses? How does it fit into this statutory instrument? Will there be further legislation as a result of this document and any ensuing measures? Will an amending SI be needed? I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify this further.

The consultation document sought views on proposals designed to reduce ammonia emissions, 87% of which come from UK agriculture. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has already said, this is good because it will protect the soil and our environment, specifically from the use of solid urea fertilisers.

It recommends three options: a ban on solid urea fertilisers, which the Government favour; a requirement to stabilise solid urea fertilisers; and a requirement to restrict their spreading to a two-month window from 15 January to 31 March each year. Can the Minister update the Committee? Is the SI just a temporary measure to be followed by amending legislation to reflect the recommendations, including a possible ban? Or does this intersection with the Northern Ireland protocol cut across all this and ensure that it will not happen?

Finally, with the protocol in place, what will be the position in Northern Ireland regarding reducing urea fertilisers? I presume this will be an issue for DAERA and the Northern Ireland Executive. I look forward to the Minister’s answers.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and for his time and that of his officials in providing a briefing on this statutory instrument. I share the dismay of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, about the Environment Bill and agree with many of her comments.

Our farming and horticulture sectors have come to rely on fertilisers to ensure that their businesses thrive. However, many of the chemicals contained in fertilisers do not improve soil quality—quite the opposite. The Government rightly set great store by not only improving soil quality but preventing runoff from land, which can carry topsoil away.

As I understand it, this SI has two parts: one relates only to the Northern Ireland protocol—as the original SI was implemented in February 2019, before the protocol was in place—and the other to labelling. Again, if I have understood it correctly, the “UK fertiliser” label can be used in Northern Ireland. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said, producers who do not currently trade with the EU and are based in the UK cannot use the same label.

I understand that the Agriculture Act now allows the UK to set a different set of standards for fertilisers from those being used in the EU. Are these differing standards stricter in the UK than in the EU, or are the EU ones tighter?

I am aware that a radical review of fertilisers is being undertaken both in the EU and the UK. The UK review is an ambitious programme to change and modernise the use of fertilisers. How long with this review take and when will its findings be published? Is it likely to be completed before the end of July this year?

I note that the devolved Administrations have been consulted on this SI. Are they also to be consulted on the ongoing review of the use and type of fertilisers? It will be important to harmonise fertiliser use across the country and not have different practices in different devolved Administrations. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, referred to the lack of consultation and agreement with Northern Ireland. This is unacceptable.

Widening the subject, I am encouraged that some of our waste will be recycled into soil enhancers. Can the Minister say more about plastics contamination in waste products which are to be used in this way? Like him, I am in favour of a circular economy, and delighted that we may be able to use our waste from both recycled green, on-farm composting and from water boards as soil enhancers and improvers. However, antibiotics from water board waste are entering the soil. In the past, the overuse of antibiotics has been widespread in the treatment of both human and animal diseases. Can the Minister reassure the Committee that the level of antibiotics in the soil improvers will be closely monitored?

Overall, I am happy to support this SI. As other noble Lords have said, it is very complex. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the questions which I and others have posed.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and for the helpful briefing beforehand. As noble Lords have said, this is a hugely complicated issue. We accept that this SI in its current form is necessary to ensure that the marketing and trade of fertilisers with Northern Ireland can continue effectively in the short term.

We accept that it is important that UK manufacturers can trade products across GB and Northern Ireland using the same label. Can the Minister clarify that the existing regulatory standards will remain the same in GB and Northern Ireland? Can he also update the Committee on the checks currently taking place on the Northern Ireland border? We all have some sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, about the problems occurring on the Northern Ireland border. I hope the Minister can assure us that urgent action is being taken to iron out some of the blocks and complexities at the border and that these will be resolved in short order.

The Minister has explained that we are in a period of transition regarding controls over future fertiliser policy and that a consultation is being drawn up. Although it goes beyond the scope of this SI, we would welcome such a review and an opportunity to ensure that the regulations are fit for purpose. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and other noble Lords have said, there is clearly potential for modernisation, based on the best science available, together with a greater understanding of the need to protect and enhance our soils. Can the Minister reassure us that any new proposals will maintain our commitment to the precautionary principle and to our high environmental standards?

As this is the first SI with which I have been concerned since the trade and co-operation agreement was signed in December, I wonder if the Minister can help me on a couple of other issues. Can he say how that detailed agreement will be dealt with going forward? Will it require us to revisit many of the SIs that we have already agreed? As noble Lords know, the trade and co-operation agreement is a very long document. Will its content have to be broken down in due course into primary and secondary legislation? In other words, will we have to go into the detail of this agreement at some point or will it be signed off as a whole? We are interested in the Defra elements, but it has a much wider spread. We would appreciate it if the Minister could help us regarding the state of that document, and I look forward to his response.

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords for a compelling debate. I agree with the Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, that it is complicated and intricate.

Clearly, we are dealing with materials that we need to treat extremely cautiously, so I wanted to take the opportunity to address the safety of ammonium nitrate and its storage. Ammonium nitrate is classed by the Government as a controlled good, which means that there are extremely strict rules on its handling in GB. Its import and handling are covered by the Ammonium Nitrate Materials (High Nitrogen Content) Safety Regulations 2020.

The noble Lord also asked about fertiliser shipped from GB to Northern Ireland and labelling, if it were to end up in the Republic. We have updated the published guidance to reflect the changes and new actions needed to market fertilisers in GB, Northern Ireland and Europe from 1 January this year, and circulated the changes to industry before publication. The Agricultural Industries Confederation published guidance for its members based on our updated GOV.UK guidance. On this basis, there is clarity over labelling and where fertilising products can be sold.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Bakewell, raised environmental issues. Again, I should like to address a key point. In having fertilisers to enhance agricultural production, feed the nation and feed the world, we need to be extremely conscious of the environmental issues. Although it is essential to maintain and, wherever we can, increase yields for both food and non-food use, fertilisers can have a significant negative impact on air quality, water quality and emissions, as well as habitats and soils.

That is why the Government are very clear about the need to uphold high standards now that we have left. This will be reflected in any new regulatory regime for fertilisers introduced under the new powers included in the Agriculture Act 2020. The powers in the Act allow for the establishment of an assessment, monitoring and enforcement regime to ensure fertilisers’ compliance with composition, content and function requirements that will be set out in regulations, and for otherwise mitigating risks to human, animal or plant health or the environment presented by fertilisers. I absolutely recognise the dynamics of what we need to do and that, as has been said, the careful monitoring of fertilisers’ use is well known by those who will use them.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned cost. The whole purpose of the GB, Northern Ireland and UK fertiliser label was to minimise manufacturing costs. She mentioned, as I have, the Agricultural Industries Confederation. It is very much aware of and content with the provisions of the original exit SI that created the UK fertiliser label. As I said, the policy objective of this SI is to maintain that common route to market across the UK in the light of the Northern Ireland protocol.

I am also very conscious of what the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, said about the difficulties. That is why not just Defra but the Government as a collective are doing everything we can, case by case, in the Defra areas and beyond, to work with producers, hauliers and Governments to ensure that these issues are resolved company by company. I know, as will noble Lords, from the work we have done on many Northern Ireland regulations over time, of the very strong relationship that Defra has with DAERA. I register for all noble Lords, particularly those from Northern Ireland, that I am acutely aware of some of the difficulties. Yes, we want a smooth passage of trade, but we need to recognise —as we do—that there are requirements because of the protocol. We seek to ensure a pragmatic approach within the principles of the protocol so that businesses in all parts of the United Kingdom can thrive and consumers get the goods that they need and get them speedily.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, mentioned the importance of UK standards and asked about any differences with what may be EU standards. At the moment, the retained UK fertiliser regime will adopt the same standards as the EU. That is our position. The EU is implementing a new fertiliser products regulation to improve standards, and this new law will become fully operational in July 2022. As I mentioned, we have taken powers under the Agriculture Act to ensure that we, too, can modernise our domestic system and improve standards in fertiliser regulation.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, mentioned, there is a consultation on urea fertiliser that will close today. We launched a consultation on reducing ammonia emissions from the use of solid urea fertilisers because ammonia emissions are harmful to sensitive habitats as well as to human health, with 87% of ammonia emissions coming from farming. We need to address that, and the farming industry is very conscious of it. I do not have any further detail, I am afraid, because the consultation closed today.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised a point on labelling. This SI will implement a unifying label for the UK. Both Northern Ireland and GB can trade under EU regulation as long as they comply with those requirements.

On any new system of assessment under the regulations, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and others, we have already started moving towards adopting conformity assessment for fertilisers, a risk-based system commonly used for manufactured products. This means that we can use appropriate testing standards depending on the risk posed to the consumer and the environment. It offers regulatory assurance for consumers that fertilisers deliver the nutrient efficiency claimed by manufacturers, but also allows us to set limits for contaminants, such as plastics, in organic products. This will ensure that products not currently regulated, such as soil improvers, will be safe for the consumer and the environment. It should stimulate both demand and development for less polluting types of fertilisers, such as biostimulants.

I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that we will use every opportunity we can in a new Session of Parliament to get the Environment Bill before your Lordships as soon as possible. We will be working to reduce peat. I will take that away and work on all other points that were made. As I said, the role of DAERA is extremely important, and it will be for the Northern Ireland Administration to work on these matters, but we will co-operate on matters such as the reduction of use of urea.

I fear my Whip is sending me a message that means I may have gone beyond the time allocated, but noble Lords raised some very important points. I will write fully on some of the more detailed points but, in the meantime, I commend the regulations. They are important for the whole purpose of what we want to do within the United Kingdom and working with our Northern Ireland colleagues.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now resume. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing, while others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I must ask Members in the Room to wear a face covering except when seated at their desk, to speak sitting down and to wipe down their desk, chair and any other touch points before and after use. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. The time limit for the following debate is one hour.

Operation of Air Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Operation of Air Services (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

Relevant document: 41st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, these regulations are made under the powers conferred by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. They amend EU Regulation 1008/2008, which sets out common rules for the operation of air services. These regulations ensure that Regulation 1008/2008 continues to function correctly in UK law after the transition period. They do so by amending the Operation of Air Services (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018.

This SI is necessary because the EU amended Regulation 1008/2008 after the UK’s 2018 regulations were made. EU Regulation 1008/2008 was amended in May last year by EU Regulation 2020/696, which inserted provisions to address problems caused by the sharp decline in air passengers resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. It also inserted powers for the Commission to extend the new provisions by delegated acts. The Commission used these powers and made further amendments to Regulation 1008/2008 via two delegated regulations adopted on 16 December 2020. These extended two of the new provisions until the end of 2021. The earlier amendment made in May would have seen them expire at the end of 2020.

This SI was made using the “made affirmative” procedure as the only means of bringing it into force before the end of the transition period while ensuring parliamentary scrutiny. As I have noted, the most recent EU amendments were not adopted until 16 December; only then was it possible to determine the precise content of this SI. The SI was laid on 23 December, the earliest opportunity after the Commission’s adoption of the delegated regulations.

I will now describe the provisions in more detail. They allow airlines in financial difficulty to retain their operating licences, subject to certain conditions, and allow airports to urgently replace ground-handling providers should they suddenly cease trading. Both provisions will apply until the end of 2021.

Regulation 1008/2008 requires the Civil Aviation Authority—the CAA—to revoke or suspend the operating licence of an air carrier in financial difficulty; it may replace it with a temporary licence. Such action risks the integrity of the air carrier in the eyes of investors and customers. It would raise concerns about the airline’s viability and could, in turn, lead to deeper financial problems. Normally, such actions are justified to regulate tightly carriers in financial difficulty but, during the Covid-19 pandemic, all air carriers have suffered significant decreases in revenues and a more flexible response is required.

Regulation 2020/696 inserted a new provision allowing regulators not to revoke or suspend operating licences where the carrier is in financial difficulty providing that a financial assessment is undertaken, safety is not at risk and there is a realistic prospect of financial reconstruction within 12 months. The CAA is the UK regulator in this respect.

The second provision concerns ground handling at UK airports where ground-handling suppliers are restricted; for example, on safety grounds. Where a ground handler has ceased trading before the end of its contract, the new provision allows airports to choose a new provider directly for a limited period rather than undertaking a tender process.

Reduced passenger demand at airports has severely impacted the ground-handling sector and increased the risk of sudden failure of ground-handling companies. The new provision ensures that airports where ground handlers are restricted can select replacement providers quickly and minimise disruption to users of the airport.

The withdrawal Act retained EU Regulation 1008/2008 in its entirety on exit day. The amendment makes the changes necessary so that this EU regulation continues to function correctly alongside the Operation of Air Services (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018.

The SI amends Regulation 1008/2008 to fix deficiencies arising from the amendments made by subsequent regulations and Commission delegated regulations. For example, “Union air carrier” is replaced by “UK air carrier”, and references to the ground-handling directive are replaced by references to the Airports (Groundhandling) Regulation 1997, which transposed the directive. Provisions relating to the Commission’s delegated powers are revoked because they are no longer relevant to the UK.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will continue for some time. The provisions that I have described provide the CAA and airports with additional flexibility to respond. I commend the regulations to the Committee. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the Minister, who has given us a comprehensive introduction to the regulations. I suspect, as she hinted, that the Covid situation causing the massive lack in demand for air services will go on for some time and that we will have many such debates on air regulations before the year is out.

I have just one or two questions for the Minister. First, it appears from reading the Explanatory Memorandum that the regulations apply only to the UK and to UK-registered carriers—obviously, it is just the UK—but how do foreign carriers get registered to operate in the UK?

Secondly, I have noted that a UK air carrier must have its principal place of business in the UK, which is perfectly reasonable, but are there any restrictions on the shareholding or ownership or on where those operators might be registered, be they in the UK, within the European Union or elsewhere?

I am also interested in bilateral air services agreements. How many, if any, have been agreed with EU member states and came into force at Brexit? If those agreements are not complete, when will they be—they must be done individually, I believe—and what happens in the meantime? Are we just hoping for the best, or are there some interim arrangements?

Finally, on qualifying air operators being eligible for PSOs—I am obviously interested in PSOs from where I live in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly—I understand PSOs being limited to EU carriers, but do any EU carriers have cabotage rights to operate in the UK? Would they then be able to bid for PSOs in the same way as UK-registered air carriers?

That is enough from me. I look forward to the Minister’s answers.

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, in thanking the Minister for her explanation. He is probably quite right that this will be the first of many such sessions.

I think I understand the regulations, but I am concerned about the activities of operators such as Ryanair, which now register their businesses on the continent. How are they covered? Are they now counted as a UK carrier, or are they a foreign carrier? We can see quite a lot of that sort of movement in the industry, where it will be quite difficult to determine who is what. Otherwise, I think I understand the regulations and the way in which ground-handling services have been bundled together with air operations. Like the noble Lord, I look forward to—or, rather, I can foresee—many more occasions when we might return to this subject.

My Lords, the trade agreement between the UK and the EU was concluded on Christmas Eve last year and came into force on 31 December, four and a half years after the vote for Brexit. It is almost 1,500 pages, 26 of which deal with aviation. There were major concerns that the existing conditions would be worsened, but this has largely been avoided. Of course, there is some risk of divergence over time, but, as of now, compared with the threat of no deal, we are in a very good place in spite of being out of Europe’s single aviation market. The traffic rights have been preserved. Ownership and control restrictions allow UK airlines to be EU-owned, and there is close co-operation on safety and security, so, on the whole, this is very good news.

However, as has been said, the UK aviation industry has suffered greatly. Industry groups warned in a recent article that there was only so long that airports could “run on fumes”. There are now the new quarantine rules and a requirement to isolate for 10 days, and all travel corridors are closed. The Airport Operators Association is grateful for the £8 million in rates relief for airports, but airports such as Heathrow, whose rates are £100 million in a year, have suffered hugely—at times, the airlines’ and airports’ business has been down by more than 90%. Does the Minister agree that the support needs to continue and that, in particular, the furlough scheme should be extended beyond April until at least the end of June?

There is now talk of the possibility of travellers being forced to quarantine in hotels when they arrive in the UK. Can the Minister inform us as to whether this will happen? Aviation leaders have warned that tougher border controls would be catastrophic. On the other hand, everyone in business understands that health has to come first. As the Prime Minister said, there is a theoretical risk of a new, vaccine-busting variant of the virus, which we have to be able to keep under control. Thankfully, the vaccine looks to be progressing extremely well. Does the Minister agree that we should have a testing regime which comprises not only a PCR test 72 hours before boarding a flight but a lateral flow test on arrival as is the case in the UAE, as well as another lateral flow test five days later, which would avoid the need for quarantine as we look ahead to when the vaccines have been rolled out?

My Lords, the Minister in her opening remarks referred to safety. Obviously, when airlines are not flying at normal levels and get in financial difficulty, sometimes safety is short-circuited and maintenance is put off to save money. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how safety is being maintained given these circumstances.

Secondly, I wanted to ask about the difference between what are called “foreign carriers” and “British carriers”. Airlines are owned internationally these days; they are not normally owned by a particular country, and what is a principal place of business is a matter often in the eye of the beholder. I am not quite clear how these arrangements are entered into. The other important point is that they should be reciprocal. How is that going to be rolled out over future years?

My third point, on the PSO, has already been referred to. The Minister will be aware that there are a number in the UK—in Cornwall, I believe, and I know there are others. We certainly have at least one in Northern Ireland. Given that Northern Ireland is still subject to state aid rules, how will the application of PSOs be looked at in terms of the agreement with the European Union? People could argue that unfair advantages are being given if PSOs are designated in particular areas; and of course, there is also our concern for the social and economic development of more remote regions. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how these issues will be judged. In Northern Ireland we at least have one operational PSO and are still subject to state aid; where is the interface between that and potential PSO rules in Great Britain?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for bringing forward these regulations today—they go to the heart of the sustainability and resilience of the industry. At its height, the aviation sector enjoyed a turnover of over £60 billion, contributed over £22 billion a year to the UK economy and employed almost 1 million people either directly or indirectly. My thoughts are with all those who have been involved and who may have lost their jobs in the airline sector and the aviation industry at this time.

I particularly welcome the fact that this statutory instrument allows air carriers to retain licences in the event of passenger numbers falling, subject to the conditions that my noble friend set out, and allows, in the circumstances of a ground handler ceasing to trade before the end of the contract, airports to choose a new provider directly for a limited period to enable them to continue without a tender process at that time.

My noble friend set out the conditions which have to be met in the event of an operating carrier experiencing financial difficulties. If the airline operator cannot meet those criteria at this time and until December this year, what happens to the licences which are released and what procedure is to be followed in those circumstances? It would be very helpful for us and those affected to know.

I also echo the thanks given by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for the support enjoyed by the airline sector and other industries. But does my noble friend agree that airlines need further economic support at this time, over and above the support they have already enjoyed? Of course, most of the loans have to be paid back, and it may be some time before we enjoy the level of activity that we saw between 2016 and 2018 to enable the airlines to repay those loans. Will my noble friend look at my request to end the current air passenger duty anomaly, which is effectively subjecting UK domestic flights to double taxation?

Those are my two specific questions, in addition to what happens to the licences: what further support might be extended, and can the vexed question of air passenger duty and double jeopardy be tackled?

I thank the Minister for her introduction of the instrument, and I hope she will forgive me if I look a little wider than provisions for financial difficulties—of which I fear there are many and will be many more if we are not careful—and for changes to ground staff handling.

If you take airline travel as the beginning of a chain which links airlines, airports, their employees and suppliers, the aerospace industry and its suppliers, and the communities dependent upon them, there is a long chain of jobs dependent upon the functioning of the air travel industry. For this reason, I urge the Government and the Prime Minister to note and act upon the open letter sent by ABTA to the Prime Minister asking for an aviation, travel and tourism recovery package. We know it cannot take place now, but we need to plan for when it is possible and not wait until it is possible. We will need plans for inward travel, made in conjunction with not only the European Union but other jurisdictions. We will need to know what testing is to be available, where and when and at what cost. What role will vaccination certificates play? A few countries have already indicated unrestricted access for those who have been vaccinated, but how is that going to be proved by individuals?

Lastly—and I hope the Minister will forgive me—I raise yet again, after many questions, European Union regulation 261 on passenger compensation in the event of cancellation or delay. The Minister previously helped me on this point, and I am grateful for her assurance that it remained in force after 31 December. But, while in no way doubting her integrity on the matter, is it in a suitable form post our exit from the European Union on 31 December? Did it not need amendment to reflect this? If so, has it been done, and where?

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for her introductory explanation. This SI extends temporary provisions to disapply the usual rules for airlines which get into financial difficulty. In normal circumstances, their operating licence is revoked or replaced by a temporary licence. The SI recognises that previously financially healthy airlines are financially at risk while travel restrictions are in place, meaning that they can continue operating without revocation or suspension of their licence so long as they were previously financially stable, safety is not at risk and there is a realistic prospect of restructuring. Similarly, it allows airports to replace ground-handling service providers without going out to tender. These seem sensible measures at the moment, but I have some questions about the detail.

First, week after week there is fresh news of crises among airlines worldwide. Most have responded by downsizing their fleets and personnel, but many clearly face serious financial difficulties still. Can the Minister tell us how many airlines in the UK have been accorded the special measures briefly described by me and referred to in the regulations? Have they been allowed to continue operating when, in normal circumstances, they could have lost their licence?

The process is subject to conditions relating to previous financial viability. Can the Minister explain how those tests are applied in the UK? Is this done by the CAA, the CMA or another government agency? Many airlines, as previous speakers have pointed out, have shareholders in the UK, the EU and across the world; what international co-operation and liaison is there between licensing authorities in such cases? Can the Minister explain how they are dealt with? On ground handling, have there been any instances of airports using the non-tender approach allowed?

Finally, I will ask about the general situation for aviation and, indeed, the travel sector generally, as several other noble Lords have. We seem to be heading towards tighter restrictions in relation to quarantine hotels, which are a very sensible response to the situation. Last month, the ONS published data that shows that the travel sector has been the hardest hit sector in the UK economy. It contributes £65 billion a year to our GVA and sustains 1 million jobs, but the Government are still providing no support targeted specifically to the travel industry; there has been no Eat Out to Help Out for it.

The Minister knows about this—I have asked about it on numerous occasions—and she always refers me to the standard package of measures available for businesses generally, but will she now accept that airlines, airports and all those companies that support them and the travel industry as a whole now need a dedicated package of support? Their request is that the Global Travel Taskforce be reconvened so that the travel industry works closely with government to tackle this very specific problem.

The measures in this SI reflect that, very early on in this pandemic, the EU specifically recognised that airlines and support companies, such as ground handlers, would face financial crises. Almost a year on, the travel industry urgently needs the UK Government to show similar awareness of it as a whole.

My Lords, I welcome the introduction of this instrument to transfer EU regulations into UK statute and to ensure continuity in relation to airlines and their operating licences. Of course, there is much work to be done to ensure that airline finances are more resilient, but this instrument is none the less a welcome contribution towards that. On that note, considering that part of these regulations relates to insolvencies of suppliers of ground-handling services, can the Minister update the Committee on what steps the Government are taking to avoid insolvencies in the near future?

Moving on to the instrument itself, the Minister will recall that, in November 2020, the European Commission stated that the periods for which the previous provisions apply will be extended by 12 months until 31 December 2021. Do the Government expect the European Commission to extend the timeframe further, beyond the current deadline—and, if so, will the UK extend the timeframe to reflect this? In regard to the drafting of this specific instrument, I am pleased that the Government have stated that the CAA supports these regulations. Can the Minister confirm who else the Government have consulted as part of the drafting of the regulations?

Finally, looking to the future operation of regulations in this area, can the Minister detail how the Department for Transport is currently engaging with the European Commission to support airlines? Does the Minister expect the European Commission to introduce any further provisions in this area? As I said, I welcome the introduction of this instrument and I am pleased that the Government are seeking continuity for airlines.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their consideration of these regulations. As ever, I give my special thanks to those who were in touch beforehand to raise any issues or questions with me. It always amazes me, but probably in a good way, that noble Lords are able to raise issues far beyond the scope of the SI. I will do my best to respond, but I will focus on those issues that are directly relevant, while I still have time.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, talked about consultation and engagement. I hope he will recognise that this SI was put in place very rapidly, as the developments came out of the European Commission. We consulted the CAA and key ground-handling companies, but we were not able to consult as widely as we would ordinarily have liked. However, of course, we speak to the aviation sector as a whole, and I am not aware that there were any significant concerns about these regulations.

I turn to the point raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh about what happens to the licences. There is not a finite supply of them. If the test cannot be met, the CAA can suspend or revoke an airline’s operating licence, or it could issue a temporary operating licence—these procedures are very well understood. I return to what is in the SI: the three tests that the CAA has to put in place are rigorous, and it will be able to assess whether a licence needs to be suspended or revoked.

I turn briefly to the second of the three points, which is about confirming that the financial problem poses no safety risk, and I will pick up the point that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, raised. Of course, safety is our highest priority in aviation; there has been no change to the regulation in relation to it, and there has been no change to the enforcement of safety regulations—that remains the case, and I reassure him on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked whether these powers have been used, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked whether they might be extended in the future. I am not aware that these powers have been used since they became available in May 2020, and, obviously, I hope that they do not have to be used in 2021 either—but they provide the flexibility, should we need it.

On the issue of ground handlers, we are, of course, transposing, or matching our regulations to, things that were set out by the European Commission, as is the case under the withdrawal Act. At the moment, no airports in the UK have a limitation on the number of ground handlers to no more than two on safety grounds, so the ground-handler side of things would not currently be needed. However, on the airline side, it certainly gives the sector some comfort that there is the appropriate flexibility, should it be needed.

Of course, in the first instance, we are looking to the end of 2021, which is why we had to get these powers in quite quickly at the end of last year. I hope that we do not need to extend them in 2022, but we will continue to talk to the industry about this. If we need to consider extending them, this will require primary legislation. As for what the European Commission may do, obviously, we will watch with great interest, but the UK will make these decisions for itself.

This slightly leads into the question of what a UK airline and a foreign airline are. The latter needs to have an air operator certificate and a route licence from the CAA to operate in the UK. A UK airline must have a principal place of business in, and be regulated by, the UK. As such, to a certain extent, an airline decides where its principal place of business is and, therefore, who it is regulated by. Of course, within the EU and, to the largest extent, the UK, it probably does not really matter because you are mostly dealing with the same regulation—so Ryanair is not a UK carrier because its principal place of business is not in the UK and, therefore, it is not regulated by the CAA.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also asked about new bilateral agreements following the trade and co-operation agreement, which we entered into at the end of last year. There do not need to be any bilateral agreements now, so there will be no new ones with EU member states because the new air services agreement within the TCA covers the entirety of the EU.

Turning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, about PSOs, the Northern Ireland protocol applies only to trade in goods, whereas public service obligations are a service. They are therefore not subject to state aid rules and can be considered in the broader context of regional connectivity. The PSOs were put in place under Regulation 1008/2008; as I said, this regulation has been retained in UK law. Indeed, Article 3.5 of the EU TCA makes specific mention of PSOs as an allowed subsidy, which is positive. Decisions on PSOs are made on a case-by-case basis. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked whether an EU carrier would be able to undertake one. If no UK airline was interested in providing a PSO, an EU airline could be given greater cabotage rights so that it could then provide the service.

We in government have come up with a good package that covers many types of business in the economy. I will not go through this in detail as I am sure noble Lords have heard it mentioned many times before, but the air transport sector as a whole has received around £3 billion of support from the Covid Corporate Financing Facility and the job retention scheme alone. Noble Lords will be well aware that the airport and ground operations support scheme has been announced by the Government; that should be helpful in reducing cash burn, particularly for small and medium-sized airports. It could also unlock further shareholder and lender support.

It is worth mentioning that further cross-economy measures are available to businesses in the aviation sector if they are eligible. In January 2021—this month—easyJet announced that it had signed a £1.4 billion loan facility with a syndicate of banks, partially guaranteed by UK Export Finance. British Airways also secured a similar commitment for £2 billion, which, again, will be partially guaranteed by UK Export Finance. A lot is going on to make sure that our aviation sector is secure for the future. Also in January, the Chancellor announced the Additional Restrictions Grant. Again, that may be appropriate for some businesses, but we are well aware that, like so many sectors of our economy at the moment, aviation is struggling.

We are now focused on getting a plan together—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned this—for how we will help the sector recover. We are doing a lot of work in this area. The expert steering group, which we originally set up right at the outset of the pandemic, was reconvened in September to focus specifically on recovery work. It includes representative bodies such as the Airport Operators Association and Airlines UK, airlines such as easyJet, IAG, Virgin and Wizz Air, airports, ground handlers, a freight representative, the Association of British Travel Agents—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, name-checked it, I think; it is actually involved in the recovery work so I hope that it will share its thoughts with the group—and the CAA. The steering group is working with the department to come up with a recovery plan for the aviation sector. It will explore all sorts of different things relevant to aviation; a specific example is looking at how we can make sure that we maintain our regional connectivity.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned border closures. I thank him for his suggestion about testing. As noble Lords know, this is a live issue at the moment. The Government always have it under review and are always thinking about how we can strengthen it.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned air passenger duty—not for the first time. I am always grateful to her for doing so. As I believe I have said, we take great interest in air passenger duty. The Treasury always keeps taxes under review. The Government have committed to consulting on aviation tax reform. We recognise the issue mentioned by the noble Baroness. I very much hope that, now that the workload around the initial response to Covid-19 has declined somewhat, we will be able to move the consultation forward more quickly.

Finally, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, about Regulation 261 and passenger compensation, I am afraid I can go no further. As I said, it is a functioning regulation and we do not believe that it needs to be updated, but I will ask officials to write to the noble Lord if further detail would be helpful.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.

Drivers’ Hours and Tachographs (Amendment) Regulations 2020

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Drivers’ Hours and Tachographs (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

Relevant document: 41st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, these regulations are the first to be made under the powers conferred by Section 31 of the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020. By reason of urgency, it was necessary to make these regulations without a draft being laid and approved by both Houses of Parliament. The urgency was that these regulations needed to be made and to come into force before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, to ensure that the rules relating to drivers’ hours and tachographs could continue to be enforced in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in respect of vehicles engaged in commercial road transport, under the terms of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, or TCA.

Drivers’ hours rules are central to keeping our roads safe and protecting driver welfare. They set maximum driving times and minimum break and rest times for most commercial drivers of both lorries and coaches. For example, the rules mean that after 4.5 hours driving, a driver must take a 45-minute break, and daily driving time is normally limited to nine hours. The consequences of driving any vehicle when fatigued can, of course, be catastrophic, and the potential risks associated with heavy commercial vehicles are particularly severe.

These rules are enforced by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency at targeted roadside checks, but also by visiting operators’ premises. The principal tool used by enforcement officers is the record generated by the tachograph, a device installed in relevant vehicles that records the driving, rest and break times of individual vehicles and drivers. The regulations amend domestic legislation to ensure that the roads chapter of the TCA, which covers the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules applicable to journeys between the UK and EU from 1 January 2021, can be enforced. They do this by providing that the EU drivers’ hours regulation and the EU tachographs regulation, which are retained in domestic legislation by the EU withdrawal Act, will apply to journeys between the UK and the EU, as well as domestic journeys in the UK. The regulations also clarify that the AETR rules apply to journeys between the UK and countries that are not EU member states.

As I said, the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules are important to public safety, and this instrument is required to ensure that such rules can continue to be enforced effectively. The policy area of drivers’ hours is devolved with respect to Northern Ireland. While, for the sake of efficiency, this SI makes amendments to the retained EU regulations on a UK-wide basis, this does not affect the devolved nature of the policy.

To conclude, keeping these regulations in force is essential for ensuring that the drivers’ hours and the tachograph rules applicable to journeys between the UK and EU member states under the TCA are enforceable. These rules are at the heart of the road safety regime for commercial vehicles. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing these very important regulations. I agree that it is necessary to keep enforcement at the top of the list, because it is all to do with road safety, and I welcome these regulations without question, apart from that of enforcement. There is nothing new about our discussion of enforcement, but it is worth asking the Minister a few questions about how it is done, because we have had issues recently about number plate recognition. Apparently, the system that recognises number plates, for congestion charges and such things, no longer links with the systems in the rest of Europe, so it looks to me as if any truck, car, coach or anything with non-UK registered number plates will probably get away with no enforcement at all, because it will be too difficult, time-consuming and labour-intensive to chase them up.

I have a few questions for the Minister. One is simple; she outlined the answer, which we should probably all know. How does the DVLA monitor tachographs? Obviously, it can be done at people’s premises, although I do not imagine an army of several thousand DVLA staff is employed to do this. Is it ever done at motorway service areas or at ports where lorries congregate? It would be nice to know how much monitoring takes place and how often it happens.

The regulations say that some 500 offences are reported to the DVLA every month. This is quite a high figure. I assume that a large proportion of these offences relate to long-distance trucks, many of which have probably come from or are going to the continent and may be in a hurry. It is well known that about 80% of them have non-UK number plates and non-UK drivers. How do the Government think they can be followed up, given that the number plate recognition service is going back to manual? What are the reciprocal arrangements for British-registered trucks going to the continent? Will they also be subject to enforcement? As we have often noted, in places such as France, they will stop you if they feel like it and ask questions afterwards.

A few years ago, I had a friend who was a long-distance driver working for a truck delivery company. On one occasion he was asked by his employer to drive a truck from the south-west to Glasgow, another from Glasgow to the south-west, and a third from the south-west to Glasgow, all within 24 hours. He had more than one tachograph. How is such a situation enforced? The number of trucks does not matter. Driving for this length of time is highly dangerous without the usual rest period.

Finally, will the Minister comment on the headline in last Sunday’s Observer about the DVLA’s failure to protect its workers from coronavirus. Apparently, 500 cases were reported out of a staff of 1,800. Staff were refused permission to work at home and were told to turn off their test and trace apps so that they would not make a noise. Do the Government think that this is an example of good employment practice? I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

My Lords, I support these regulations. Using tachographs to control drivers’ hours is highly beneficial and helps to reduce accidents caused by lack of sleep or overwork.

When my daughter was a trainee solicitor, one of the partners at her law firm was known as the prince of tachographs because he was instrumental in advising lorry drivers on their use in the late 1980s, when they were first introduced. I am pleased to say that he now sits as Lord Justice Hickinbottom in the High Court.

While it is reassuring to see legislation on the continued use and enforcement of tachographs, what extra measures have the Government introduced, or could consider implementing to assist lorry drivers in using their tachographs to help alleviate the delays they are now facing as they cross to and from Europe with deliveries? I have heard of drivers, who are invariably paid by the delivery, refusing to take deliveries abroad due to the sheer amount of time they take—at least double or more. I suspect that those drivers’ hours are also playing a part in those delays.

I seek assurance that the Government are considering the impact of the tachograph regulations on our current trading arrangements with Europe by lorry and whether relaxing or amending the rules on tachographs could help to alleviate the delays we are seeing to goods. It is important to the UK that we keep deliveries free-flowing and do not impede trade elsewhere. Perhaps, where helpful and appropriate, the use of tachographs could be moderated to lessen those delays until a smoother system is in place.

My Lords, I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about enforcement now that we do not have such good access to international information on number plates. That is a particular issue because 85% of lorry drivers going across to mainland Europe are not UK-based, so enforcement is key.

I also endorse the noble Lord’s comments about conditions at the DVLA in Swansea. Will the Government ensure that there is a full investigation into why so many employees have caught the virus, and into employment practices that do not seem to be in line with government guidance?

The regulations are another example of the legislative contortions that we have got ourselves into by being outside both the EU and the single market, but at the same time wanting to mirror EU standards. I cite one sentence from paragraph 2.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum:

“Although the EU Exit Regulations will come into force on IP completion day”—

which, by the way, has passed—

“because the Mobility Package came into force after the EU Exit Regulations were made, the EU Exit Regulations do not remedy these deficiencies.”

A great deal of concentration was required to understand what the Explanatory Memorandum was trying to explain.

The desire to track EU regulations is very understandable—especially on logistics, where smooth liaison for drivers operating internationally is essential. The experience of the past few weeks has already revealed many problems with the day-to-day operation of Brexit that were overlooked by its advocates. One has to wonder whether the experts—the drivers and haulage companies—could have been engaged earlier to try to find solutions to these problems.

I wonder how we will keep this up in the long term. The EU has recently announced 82 transport policy and legislative proposals for the coming year—all part of its green deal. I know that the Government are anxious to make their mark on climate change issues, so I assume that the UK will want to at least keep pace with that. It will be extremely difficult to keep pace with changes in EU regulations in this field and in many others.

I have a question about tachographs. Paragraph 2.8 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to clarifying the types of tachograph applicable in the UK. If a lorry is to be driven in the EU, will the tachograph have in future to conform to EU standards too? I tend to assume that it will, but I should like the Minister’s confirmation. What will be the situation for drivers in Northern Ireland?

Before Christmas, when lorries were queuing through Kent because of restrictions due to the outbreak of the new strain of Covid, the Government suspended the restrictions on drivers’ hours and required rest periods. Is the lifting of restrictions still in force? If so, why? Are the delays still significant enough to require this? I ask because, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, drivers’ hours regulations are so important to road safety generally and the lifting of the rules was general and not specific to Kent.

Finally, do the Government have any plans to vary these rules? Recent news suggests that they intend to lower employment regulations and reduce standards. The example of tachographs and drivers’ hours is a classic case of regulations that benefit individual employees but are also of great importance to our safety and security generally.

I thank the Minister for her concise explanation of the content and purpose of these regulations. I must say, I also found the Explanatory Memorandum heavy going.

These regulations ensure that the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules for commercial road transport, lorries and coaches in the trade and co-operation agreement are applicable to journeys between the UK and the EU and can be enforced. They were laid under the “made affirmative” procedure, meaning that they applied instantly when they were laid shortly after the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU was concluded late last month. That agreement made no changes to the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules applicable to journeys between the UK and EU.

The Government have said that these regulations are needed urgently to ensure that the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules can continue to be enforced under the terms of the trade and co-operation agreement, and that the urgency arose because there was such a short period of time—a few days—between the conclusion of the agreement and the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

Due to the tight deadline for making these legislative changes, and with the agreement of the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland, these regulations include changes affecting Northern Ireland even though the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules are a transferred matter for Northern Ireland. Indeed, such was tightness of the deadlines that, on top of the regulations being made under the “made affirmative” procedure, there was no time for consultation on them, for an impact assessment or to update an earlier impact assessment that was apparently completed.

We are not opposed to the regulations since they do not represent a change to the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules; we accept their necessity. However, Parliament’s role in scrutinising this legislation has been marginalised, to say the least. In the debate so far, a number of questions have been asked and issues raised.

I note what the Minister said about the importance, safety-wise, of the regulations on drivers’ hours and the potentially serious consequences for the drivers concerned and other road users if they are not adhered to.

As has already been said, we gather that the Government are reviewing legislation on workers’ rights and protections even though we have barely cut our ties with the EU. Could the Minister say if the drivers’ hours rules applicable in Great Britain are currently under review and, if so, whether consultation will be somewhat greater than it has been in respect of these regulations? Have there been any discussions with the road haulage industry and coach industry on drivers’ hours regulations, or have the Government sought their opinions and views? Have the trade unions representing drivers been involved in any such discussions or been approached for their opinions and views? What is the view of the Department for Transport on the existing drivers’ hours regulations and whether they should be changed, and, if so, in what direction and in what way?

The drivers’ hours regulations can be enforced through the use of tachographs. In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases of tachograph falsification. In light of the importance the Minister rightly attaches to adhering to the drivers’ hours regulations, do the Government have any further steps in mind to clamp down on such tachograph falsifications? My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to some practices that seem to take place.

Hauliers have played a key role over many months in the provision and availability of essential supplies during the current pandemic. They both need and deserve the protections the current regulations provide if properly enforced—as they should be.

The Government have introduced a temporary relaxation, until the end of March, of the enforcement of the retained EU drivers’ hours rules in England, Scotland and Wales for drivers involved in the international carriage of goods by road and between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. These measures include extending the EU daily driving limit and reducing the daily rest requirements. This has been largely necessitated by the prospect of delays at our borders following our withdrawal from the EU and the lack of government notice and guidance to the haulage industry—or indeed anybody else affected—on what needed to be done to adapt to the changes arising from our withdrawal. What impact, if any, do these regulations have on the current relaxation and enforcement of EU drivers’ hours rules, and what impact does the current relaxation of EU drivers’ hours rules have on the application and enforcement of these regulations?

Finally, in light of noble Lords’ comments on enforcement, safety and Brexit during this debate, what assessment was made of the safety implications of temporarily extending the EU daily driving limit and reducing the daily rest requirements? Could the temporary relaxation of EU drivers’ hours rules have been made while we were members of the EU, or was it possible only because we cut all ties with the EU at the end of last month?

My Lords, we have a small but perfectly formed group considering these regulations today and I am grateful for all contributions. I shall endeavour to answer as many questions as I can in the time available.

On the point raised by my noble friend Lady Gardner, the roads chapter of the TCA specifies that the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules applicable between the UK and the EU are consistent with those set out in the EU drivers’ hours regulation and the EU tachographs regulation, which have been retained from EU law. As I am sure my noble friend will appreciate, this means that the flow of drivers and their trucks either way between the UK and EU is facilitated by the work that noble Lords are doing today. Therefore, she should feel reassured that no delays at the border are caused by tachograph issues. I am pleased to say that, at the moment, there are very few delays at the border anyway. That is because we have seen greater trader and haulier readiness than, certainly, I was expecting, which is positive. That is even in the context of the slight curveball that the French and, latterly, the Dutch threw by requiring testing for hauliers as well. While it was a difficult time after the testing regime was implemented, it has all calmed down significantly now. I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of readiness out there, which just goes to show that, sometimes, when the Government encourage people to do something, they really do it.

I also reassure noble Lords that the TCA means that a new generation of tachographs will be installed in UK vehicles used internationally when they are ready. Drivers’ hours and tachograph rules will also be applied to some light goods vehicles, which we think will help road safety too. So, there is a lot of co-operation between the UK and the EU particularly in respect of these international movements, drivers’ hours and tachographs.

I turn briefly to fines, non-compliance and enforcement. We take this incredibly seriously. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who asked whether there was an army of enforcement officers waiting at the roadside to catch recalcitrant hauliers. Yes, there is; that is exactly what we have. Data for 2019-20 from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, the DVSA, show that officers stopped more than 66,000 vehicles on the road. From those encounters, they issued more than 12,000 fixed penalty notices for drivers’ hours and tachograph offences. One driver might have got several of those, so it is not necessarily the case that a high proportion of people are doing wrong. However, I am afraid that it was foreign drivers who picked up most of those fixed penalties—77.2% went to non-UK drivers. That is why the regulations are so important.

A range of fines can be applied to the driver. For UK drivers, it is a fixed penalty notice; for non-UK drivers, financial penalty deposits also play an important part in the enforcement regime. That means that the driver has to pay the fine there and then, the DVSA being well versed in collecting the appropriate funds at the roadside to ensure effective enforcement for those who do not follow the rules.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, requested more information on the DVSA and its activities. It has a large group of enforcement officers out on the roadside. They go to motorway service areas, ports, venues and other places—anywhere where one would imagine there is a significant number of hauliers. Visits to operators are often done on a risk-based system. DVSA has some quite good computer software which looks for those who are likely not to be following the rules as much as others.

The noble Lord was worried about the number plate recognition system. I reassure him that the national NPR system works for registration numbers irrespective of where the vehicle originates. DVSA probably has a bit more information on UK vehicles than non-UK ones, but that does not mean that the NPR system does not work; we can identify those vehicles. Virtually all vehicles now have digital tachographs. The driver inserts their own card, which they then transfer from vehicle to vehicle, meaning that the DVSA can compare the two to see whether a driver has been driving without using a card. The noble Lord told the Committee about his pesky friend who seemed to be doing something that was not entirely within the law—I hope that he has ceased and desisted from doing that now. Drivers who use more than one card are usually easy to identify because the DVSA has the IT systems to check card validity.

On the issue of tachographs, we are always looking at how we can improve enforcement, particularly around tachograph falsification. The Department for Transport is preliminarily considering developing an additional range of sanctions, including in the context of non-UK operators’ responsibilities. We will take that work forward in due course.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the lack of access to EU systems, but that is not the case here. The UK remains connected to the TACHOnet system, which is used by the DVLA—the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which is different from the DVSA—when it processes tachograph card applications at the outset. Basically, this prevents a driver having more than one tachograph. It is also used by the DVSA when doing its roadside checks so that it can get access to the EU information.

The noble Baroness mentioned the EU mobility package changes, and I apologise for the state of the Explanatory Memorandum and its being unclear; I will take that back to the department, and perhaps we will be able to improve it for the next time. I reassure her that work is already under way on the mobility package amendments: a draft negative resolution was laid for sifting in Parliament in early January. Unlike this SI, the changes are not operation-critical.

There is currently a relaxation of drivers’ hours; indeed, we have had a number of these, as we have had discussions with the haulage industry and the freight sector about how they feel freight and goods are flowing, the impact of Covid-19 on staff absences and whether specific issues within the system are causing goods to back up. We feel that there is a risk of continued disruption to the supply chain, so we extended the relaxations until 31 March. However, the understanding is very clear: they can be withdrawn earlier if circumstances change—so we do keep it under review. We are very cognisant of driver welfare and road safety, and we are very clear that normal drivers’ hours rules are to be followed unless it is absolutely necessary not to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about reducing workers’ rights. This Government recognise the importance of drivers’ hours rules to driver welfare and road safety. I am not aware of any proposals in this area, so there has been no engagement or consultation, except for talk about temporary relaxations. The Government have no long-term plans to reduce workers’ rights.

In closing, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about things that they may have read about the DVLA in the Observer. I say to them: do not believe everything that you read in the media. I speak to the CEO of the DVLA very frequently: I last spoke to her on Sunday, and we went through all the allegations in the Observer. There are some very interesting comments, and all I can say is that I do not recognise them.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, may be interested to know that the CEO, Julie Lennard, will be at the Transport Select Committee tomorrow. I believe that she will put his mind at rest: the DVLA has the very highest standards on staff welfare. It follows the guidance from Public Health Wales and the Welsh Government to the letter, has frequent conversations and discussions with Public Health Wales and shares its plans with it. As such, I am reassured that DVLA staff are being looked after as well as possible. We must also recognise that the services it provides are critical to the functioning of our economy, and to enabling people to get to medical appointments and undertake essential journeys. I am sure there will be more on that at the TSC tomorrow.

That was a slight diversion from the SI before the Committee, but I commend the regulations.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now resume. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing, while others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the Room to wear a face covering except when seated at their desk, to speak sitting down and to wipe down their desk, chair and any other touch points before and after use. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded, or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. The time limit for debate on the following statutory instrument is one hour.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Functions) Order 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Functions) Order 2021.

Relevant document: 41st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, this order was laid before Parliament on 17 December and, if approved by both Houses, will implement the devolution deal agreed between the Government and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and announced by the Chancellor at the Budget on 11 March 2020. It will establish the office of Mayor of West Yorkshire, with the first election to take place on 6 May 2021. The mayor will be chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which comprises the constituent councils of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield. The order also transfers the police and crime commissioner functions for West Yorkshire to the combined authority, to be exercised by the mayor. Additionally, the mayor and combined authority will be conferred a range of other significant powers, as agreed in the devolution deal. These include education and skills, housing, regeneration and planning, the mayoral development corporation and transport.

The order also amends some of the combined authority’s governance arrangements to reflect these powers and the role of the mayor. If this order is approved and made, West Yorkshire will benefit from significant funding, which was agreed for the area as part of the deal. The largest element of this is the £38 million of annual investment funding for West Yorkshire for the next 30 years, comprising more than £1.1 billion in total, to be invested by West Yorkshire to drive growth and take forward its priorities. It also includes other significant funding, such as £317 million from the Transforming Cities Fund, £101 million for flood risk management, a £25 million heritage fund and £500,000 for a Bradford station masterplan. In addition, the deal provides the area with flexibilities on spending, as well as control of the annual education budget.

As other combined authorities have shown, there is good evidence that devolution to geographies that reflect a functional economic area enhances economic performance, fiscal efficiency and policy delivery at both national and local levels by making government action more coherent locally and enhancing local government’s contribution to solving problems in areas falling between individual policy fields. By conferring the powers on the combined authority, the provision of local services will be better aligned with locally determined priorities and there will be less complexity as the delivery of public services within the combined authority area is streamlined. The deal provides that West Yorkshire will monitor and evaluate the deal in order to demonstrate and report on progress.

As I am sure noble Lords will agree, these powers and this funding will be a vital element of the city region’s economic and social recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Together, they will drive growth and create opportunities for people who live and work in West Yorkshire. At this point, I am keen to recognise and thank the local leaders and their councils for all that they have done and are continuing to do to support the area and local people as they face the challenges of the pandemic.

This order will be made under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, as amended by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. As required by the 2016 Act, along with this order we have made a Section 105B report which provides details about the public authority functions, such as adult education functions and responsibility for a devolved and consolidated local transport budget, which we are devolving to the combined authority. Some of these functions, such as the power to pay grants to constituent councils for exercising highways functions, will be exercisable by the mayor.

The statutory origin of this order is in a governance review and scheme adopted in April 2020 by the combined authority with its five constituent councils in accordance with the requirements of the 2009 Act. The scheme proposed additional functions to be conferred on the combined authority, as envisaged in the devolution deal. It specified those that would be exercised by the mayor and made certain amendments to governance arrangements.

The combined authority and the councils consulted on the proposals in their scheme. The public consultation was promoted widely through a range of platforms. Responses were accepted through the combined authority website as well as via email, letter and a hard-copy form. It ran from 25 May to 20 July 2020. In total, 4,413 people responded. The combined authority provided the Secretary of State with a summary of the responses to the consultation on 14 September.

Overall, there were eight questions, on all of which there was strong support from the public and stakeholders. Indeed, the leading question, which asked whether the respondent agreed or disagreed with the proposals for the revised arrangements for the combined authority, was supported by almost 70% of respondents. Specific questions on the powers to be conferred under transport, skills, employment, housing and planning garnered similar levels of support. Some 60% of respondents supported the proposal to transfer police and crime commissioner functions to the mayor. I can confidently say that, overall, there was strong support from the people of West Yorkshire.

In laying this draft order before Parliament, the Secretary of State is satisfied that the statutory tests in the 2009 Act are met—that no further consultation is necessary and that conferring the proposed powers would likely improve the exercise of statutory functions in the combined authority area—and are appropriate, having regard to the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities and to secure effective and convenient local government, and that, where the functions are local authority functions, they can be appropriately exercised by the combined authority. Furthermore, as required by statute, the combined authority and the five constituent councils have consented to the making of this order.

The order before noble Lords will give effect to the provisions of the devolution deal, which I will briefly summarise. PCC functions will be transferred to the WYCA for exercise by the mayor. The order is clear that the mayor’s role as the holder of PCC functions is carved out, meaning that decisions around police property, rights and liabilities are the mayor’s responsibility and there remains a distinct precept. All money relating to policing must be paid into and out of the police fund, and that money can be spent only on policing and matters related to the mayor’s PCC functions.

A new police and crime panel is to be created, which will exercise broadly the same functions as under the PCC model. The financial year of the PCC and chief constable of West Yorkshire is to be extended from 31 March to 9 May 2021 to rationalise accounting processes and avoid preparing additional accounts for the one-month interim period. Any receipts will be paid to the police fund to ensure that police funding is protected.

The combined authority will take on many education functions for its area. This will also enable it to establish adult education provision and manage its devolved adult education budget from 2021-22. This can be better aligned to locally determined priorities and help boost economic growth.

To improve the supply and quality of housing and facilitate the regeneration of West Yorkshire, the combined authority will be conferred housing, regeneration, land acquisition and disposal powers. These powers will be exercised concurrently with Homes England, enabling the combined authority, working closely with Homes England, to promote housing and regeneration.

The compulsory purchase of land will be a mayoral function and any decision will require consent from the combined authority member whose local government area contains any parts of the proposed land. This order will also give the mayor a power to designate mayoral development areas in the combined authority area to support the delivery of strategic sites in West Yorkshire. This is the first step in establishing a mayoral development corporation, or MDC, in the combined authority area. A further order will be necessary to create such a body. The relevant powers concerning MDCs are conferred on the combined authority to be exercised by the major. These decisions will require the consent of the respective combined authority members whose council areas contain any parts of the designated area and of the Peak District National Park Authority if any part of the designated area sits within the national park.

While strategic planning powers and strategic infrastructure tariffs were agreed in the devolution deal, these are not being conferred at this stage. The Government have committed to confer these powers or their equivalent once the way forward on the reforms to the overall planning system is clear.

The mayor will have control over a consolidated and devolved transport budget, with a power to pay grants to the five constituent councils in relation to the exercise of their highways functions to improve and maintain roads. The mayor may pay grants to bus service operators or eligible bus services operating within the combined authority area. Grants must be calculated in accordance with any regulation methods made by the Secretary of State.

The order also includes constitutional provisions reflecting the powers conferred on the role of the mayor. There is a provision on voting arrangements so that any decision of the combined authority about its new powers conferred through the order must include the mayor among the majority of members in favour of that decision. It also provides for the establishment of an independent remuneration panel to recommend the allowances of the mayor and the deputy mayor.

The mayor and the combined authority will be scrutinised and held to account by the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee. The overview and scrutiny arrangements that the combined authority has currently established will be retained, subject to any amendments required to reflect the introduction of the mayor and any statutory provisions. Under the terms of the deals, the mayor and the combined authority may also seek to enhance scrutiny and develop their wider conference with all elected members of the combined authority’s areas to engage on key issues.

This order, which is supported locally, is a significant step forward for West Yorkshire and its businesses and communities. It is key to the city region’s economic recovery. I commend this instrument to the Committee.

My Lords, in three minutes, I can touch on only one or two key issues. I welcome the order and the elevation of the leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake, to this House. I know that she will make a great contribution.

In winding up, could the Minister touch on when we might have the long-promised White Paper on devolution? How might it deal with the inconsistencies and incoherence of having different powers for different city regions and their mayors; the creation of powers for mayors to have the police and crime commissioner function in some areas but not in others; and the way in which the resources he referred to, combined as they were in the Autumn Statement, have been cut and the structural funds originally available from the European Union have disappeared? They now look more like the towns fund, which became a slush fund for individual Members of Parliament. How might that be avoided in these circumstances?

I want to touch particularly on the importance of Yorkshire getting its act together to collaborate, have its voice heard and ensure that it is not discriminated against as it has been so blatantly in recent years. If the Sheffield City Region—I hope that it will stop arguing about the name—and the newly created West Yorkshire mayoral authority, together with the leaders in the remainder of Yorkshire, can combine as they have done in the last few days with those in the East Midlands to make their voices heard on the HS2 scandal, some good will certainly have come out of this. Others will mention HS2; it is interesting that the briefing from HS2 always refers to the Crewe and Manchester leg as connecting to the north, as though the north were just the north-west. It is time that Yorkshire got its act together and collaborated.

That will involve the Government supporting the universities in Yorkshire to combine to counterweight the golden triangle of Imperial, Oxford and Cambridge. It will involve the local authorities, as well as the city mayors, being able to see where their voice can be heard, for instance in the present maldistribution of vaccines—parts of Yorkshire have done so well in distribution that they are now being rationed—to ensure above all that the work done at the local level can be properly supported and a coherent policy developed from central government.

Given what is happening with Scotland and in Ireland, and given the failure to have any coherent policy for the English regions, confirmation of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority is way overdue. Since, uniquely, the region has two major cities—because Bradford is the size of Bristol—this will be a step forward in ensuring that the voice of the great, historic county of Yorkshire can at last be heard just as loudly as the voice of the north-west of England.

My Lords, I have a direct interest in this matter as a councillor in Kirklees and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

As we have heard, there are five constituent councils in West Yorkshire, representing 2.5 million people. Again, as we have heard, it is the only region with three cities: Bradford, Wakefield and Leeds. It has not been easy for the councils to give their agreement to this deal. There were only 4,400 responses to the consultation, which is hardly representative, and three of the constituent councils failed to achieve unanimity on the deal.

There is a healthy degree of scepticism in West Yorkshire about the mayoral model. This is compounded by the ability of the mayor to appoint both a political adviser, paid from the public purse, and a deputy mayor for policing—again, a political appointee paid from the public purse. Yorkshire residents are rightly suspicious of mayors’ ability to add to their council tax bills and of the lack of ongoing, direct accountability for their decisions. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee highlighted the fact that

“operational efficiencies … could lead to reduced costs”.

However, it concluded that the MHCLG was not able to provide evidence to support that assertion. I wonder whether the Minister will be able to do so.

This agreement is hailed as devolution but it falls at the first hurdle. The agreement that was originally reached has been undermined unilaterally by the Government at the very last minute. As the Minister has said, strategic planning powers and powers for a strategic infrastructure tariff have been removed from the agreed deal by the Government on the whimsy that they may be compromised by a government planning Bill. So much for devolution. The Government have cocked a collective snook at West Yorkshire; the Covid vaccine supply debacle has just compounded that sentiment.

As for funding, the promise of £1.1 billion over 30 years is not guaranteed; £38 million a year is all the extra that is provided for. Given that the five councils have had more than £500 million cut from their spending every year, this puts the financial offer into a proper perspective. However, on the basis that half a loaf is better than none at all, I am willing to accept this instrument.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who obviously has a great personal interest in this draft order given her strong role in Kirklees.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for setting out the terms of the order. I certainly welcome it. Until now, West Yorkshire has been the most obvious omission from the pattern of combined authorities and metro mayors in England. The Conservative manifesto committed the Government to a successful devolution of powers to city region mayors and to a White Paper on devolution in 2020. I understand the reasons for the delay but the Government confirmed last week that the English devolution and local recovery White Paper would be published “in due course”—three words with which we are all familiar and which have been used by successive Governments. Can I press my noble friend to indicate with perhaps more clarity the precise timetable of that happening?

The draft order, based on the devolution deal, has been agreed by the councils of the area and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, and a public consultation has been carried out, as detailed in the Explanatory Memorandum. Although all consultations for combined authorities have not had a flood of responses, this one has had the largest, as noted by the leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake. Like the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, I very much congratulate her on the announcement of her Peerage, and I look forward to her presence and contributions in your Lordships’ House. The consultation demonstrates considerable support for the content of the order, from 59% on finance to 75% on transport. I am pleased to see that it very much involved the universities of the area.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I note that planning and strategic infrastructure have not been conferred and that the Government are committed to conferring planning, at least in future. Could my noble friend outline the timeframe for that to happen and perhaps also explain why infrastructure has not been included?

Finally, I ask my noble friend about the elections that we all hope and expect to take place in May, as he mentioned—not just in West Yorkshire, of course. When will the guidelines be issued for the conduct of those elections? What discussions have there been with the devolved Administrations, particularly Wales, where there will be some elections on that day governed by the National Assembly for Wales—namely, the Senedd elections—and some by Westminster: namely, the police and crime commissioner elections? Clearly, those guidelines need to be dovetailed so that they say the same things. I look forward to my noble friend’s response.

My Lords, I start by declaring an interest, as I will have a vote in the West Yorkshire mayoral elections. I also endorse what my noble friend Lord Blunkett said about the urgency with which we need to see the White Paper and the more comprehensive approach to devolved institutions.

I will talk not about the powers but about the practicalities of the election. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has just said that we should have clear guidelines as soon as possible. We would all like the elections to go ahead, but we have to be realistic and make sure that there are proper preparations. We do not want a last-minute decision to postpone them elections, and we are in danger of seeing that if we do not have better preparations at a very early point.

We are only a matter of weeks from candidates having to go around getting people to sign their nomination forms, which would be difficult. We would normally see volunteers putting leaflets through, and knocking on, doors, which will not be possible. Telephone canvassing is not a good substitute.

The Government have said that polling stations will be Covid-safe, but many schools are polling stations. Will they have to close the day before and after for deep cleans? All those things need looking at. Where will returning officers will get their polling staff from—and will they be vaccinated? Will they be vaccinated three weeks or three months in advance? We are running out of time.

However, my biggest concern is for the count, because the practicalities are clear to anyone who has been a candidate in an election. Counts are busy; they are in big halls, many of which are being used for vaccinations, so they may not be available. How can a scrutineer stand two metres apart from other scrutineers and the people counting and have total confidence that they are doing a good job?

There is a real difficulty here because I do not think that the Government have fully taken on board all the practical difficulties. If they are going to go ahead with those elections on the due date, they have to have closer and more detailed conversations with both returning officers and local authority leaders. Those leaders have had a lot to put up with in the past few months, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who is a councillor, was saying. They have very scarce resources: we do not want them to have to spend money making preparations for elections that get called very late and at the last minute.

Finally, I acknowledge the work that has gone on in the lead-up to this situation. I particularly pay tribute to Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, who has been the chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and has helped to keep all the local authorities working so well together during recent difficult times.

My Lords, this order represents another small step in decentralising England. The additional powers, over skills and training and strategic housing and regeneration, in particular, are important, if limited. But, of course, there is little extra money.

I shall leave it to colleagues who live in Yorkshire to comment further on the detail of the order, but I want to make the point that what is being introduced is in practice a centralised structure. It is not just that the duties of an elected Police and Crime Commissioner are to be taken over by the mayor, it is also that there will be no assembly, as in London. There, the Assembly exists to hold the mayor to account and make sure that the mayor’s policies, actions and strategies are in the public interest.

Scrutiny matters. We need to look carefully at how scrutiny has worked in all mayoral authorities—not just combined authorities—to assess how each is performing and what we can learn from their achievements or failures. When combined authorities were first introduced, their bespoke nature was understandable, because it meant that different approaches to spreading power in England could be tested. That approach has been useful, but now we need to review how well each of the combined authorities has worked and how more power and responsibility might be devolved from Whitehall and Westminster—and not just to those existing combined authorities. That could take place in the context of the promise by the Government of a White Paper on English devolution, which was due last year, as we have heard from other noble Lords and Baronesses this evening.

At the last election, the Conservative manifesto contained a commitment to a constitution, democracy and rights commission. That is welcome, but, in my view, we need a proper constitutional convention that looks towards creating a federal structure for the United Kingdom. This is because the question of whether to hold another referendum on independence for Scotland should be seen in the context of the UK as a whole. That must surely include the constituent parts of England. It could prove key to helping the levelling up agenda, because I think levelling up, if it is to be successful, will require constitutional reform.

The Covid pandemic is teaching us many things. One is that England is too centralised. There will be a public inquiry, but we need more. We need a constitutional convention to spread power and responsibility much more widely.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the powerful remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and I associate myself with his and others’ questions about when we can expect the devolution White Paper. We know the slogan “Take back control” was at the forefront in 2016; I do not believe it has any less resonance today—I suggest it has more, given the loss of the democratic oversight and opportunities of the European Parliament.

I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and the input of the Yorkshire & the Humber Green Party into these questions. Most of them concern democracy. The Minister referred in his introductory remarks to the consent for these plans and the percentage of people who indicated agreement to the lead question. So I ask the Minister: what alternative was offered to people? Would it have meant a loss of money to the region, as I understand it would? Were people given the alternative to show support for the One Yorkshire plan that, in 2019, 18 of the 20 councils of the regions backed? Where is the Government’s evidence for the support of the people? Why was a referendum not held, as has occurred in the past?

As other noble Lords have said, London has an elected Assembly that scrutinises the work of the mayor—perhaps not as strongly as we might like but it none the less exists and has the opportunity to question and challenge. Why does Yorkshire not have a similar assembly or, given its scale, a parliament? Can one person really represent 2.5 million people? Will there not be a democratic loss through the loss of the elected police and crime commissioner and making the deputy mayor for policing a political appointee, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said? Across West Yorkshire, more than 8% of elected councillors are from parties other than Labour, the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. How are the voices of those other voters going to be properly represented on the combined authority?

Briefly, in the time available to me, I have some questions. There is a low level of participation in adult education across the region of 30%. The lowest level nationally is 29% in the south-west. Are there enough resources for the new mayor to be able to make a difference? Given that housing is such a huge issue in the area, perhaps the Minister could now, or at some point in the future, say whether the Government have considered allowing the mayor to suspend the right to buy in West Yorkshire and specify higher levels of energy efficiency as part of the mayor’s powers.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his clear explanation of the powers that the authority will have and what it can do. I also declare an interest as a member of Cumbria County Council. I am a member of that council because I believe in local government, and it is a key part of the levelling-up agenda to have stronger, more effective local government in the north of England.

I should like to put three points to the Minister. First, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and others have pointed out, there are inconsistencies and deficiencies in the way in which this devolution process has been handled. We need a White Paper, more consistency and to strengthen not weaken devolution. When are those proposals going to come?

Secondly, until now, the focus has been on strengthening the voice of the big metropolitan areas in the north of England but there are, of course, more rural and scattered hinterlands. The Government are considering local government reorganisation proposals for the hinterland in the north-west of my native Cumbria, in the hinterland of West Yorkshire and in North Yorkshire. I strongly support the creation of single strategic authorities in those areas. The district councils are iffy about this, but we can deal with their concerns through effective devolution within a strategic authority to towns and groups of parishes. That would be a better answer.

Thirdly, a stronger voice for Yorkshire is desperately needed as the Government contemplate the decision to put the eastern leg of HS2 on the back burner, which would be catastrophic for the north. It would create gross inequality between the north-west and Yorkshire and Humber and the north-east that would get worse and worse as the decades went on. It cannot be allowed to happen. I know that this is not the Minister’s direct responsibility but that of the Department for Transport, but the Local Government Minister must give attention to this desperately important issue.

As somebody born and raised in Huddersfield and whose family still lives there, now calling Sheffield my home, I feel I have a little knowledge about West Yorkshire and the devolution deal in a White Rose county. As a vice-president of the LGA, I welcome the order, but start with a word of caution as I look up the M1. Do not fall for the hype that these devolution deals are a way to solve the decades of underinvestment and lack of opportunities for Yorkshire’s people and the infrastructure required for future well-being and prosperity.

Although welcome, these deals do not deliver the powers and responsibilities that each area needs to shape their destiny. In reality, this is decentralisation, not true devolution. We have seen over the past few months that the real powers on game-changing investment will continue to sit with the iron fist of the Treasury, fixed and rooted in Whitehall. One of the significant schemes for West and South Yorkshire is HS2: both are on the eastern leg of the line. The Government have gone cold, and plans from the National Infrastructure Commission now appear to either kick the eastern leg into the long grass or scrap it altogether.

Support for future opportunities by linking the people and businesses of the great towns and cities of Yorkshire and the north via an integrated transport system is also needed. We have been told to lower our horizons. Whitehall has cut the budget for Transport for the North. London still has the real levers over money and strategic decisions. These devolution deals give us some crumbs at our tables, while the bread machine and loaf-makers stay in Whitehall. No innovative money-raising powers or exciting and significant fiscal incentives for the economic and social improvements at the scale that West Yorkshire requires are in this deal. The pandemic has made the task even harder. As this week’s annual study by the Centre for Cities shows, the number of people seeking work in parts of Yorkshire has increased fivefold in the wake of Covid, with many facing the prospect of years in the job wilderness unless the Government recognise the scale of the unfolding economic crisis that we face.

Although the deal is welcome, the Government must be honest with people in West Yorkshire. The vital levers of power and fiscal control to make the significant changes required are not part of this deal. Small changes can be made by the metro mayor, but the game-changing levers for people, communities and the local economy will still be in the grip of Whitehall. Levelling up will be a soundbite until we get meaningful devolution leading to a more federal England that can truly unleash the full potential of Yorkshire and its people.

My Lords, it looks like half of Sheffield has turned up today, but then the interest is rather big because they need to go to West Yorkshire in order to see a goal or two, and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and I will be able to catch up on a very good goal after this session. It would also be good if there was a high-speed link to aid the speed there and to bring county cricket back to Sheffield, so that there was some reverse travel as well, combining the old with the new.

I warn the Government of a potential political own-goal of significance to which I have been alerted only today. That is something I warned about when the South Yorkshire mayoral order was passed and we got assurances. I am not sure whether it is relevant to this, but I seek clarification from the Minister on that. That is the alignment of health bodies and this new, strengthened system of local government.

I made the point in relation to the Sheffield mayor that not all health authorities follow the same boundaries. The Doncaster and Bassetlaw health authority has, without question, been the top-performing health authority over the last 30 years, particularly in primary care—as, I predict, will be witnessed when statistics come out on Covid vaccination. However, it is about to be undone by bureaucratic meddling as people take their eye off the ball, combining the two—in other words, separating the funding from existing health systems. It makes Doncaster hospital unviable and closes down the accident and emergency department in Bassetlaw.

The constituencies directly affected are Newark, Bassetlaw, Bolsover, the top of Mansfield, Rother Valley and Don Valley. The impact is pretty significant and I ask the Minister to talk to his colleagues in health. Modernising and reforming—I would say “strengthening” —local government, and trying to shift well-established, successful health boundaries and shove them under the same authority is something that, even if thought sensible, should be done over a decade, not in a few minutes as a whim, with the mantra “We’ve got to do everything through public health”. If the Government get that wrong, I can tell noble Lords that voters in six constituencies—or perhaps seven, as you could add a number of voters from Brigg and Goole—will not forgive them.

So, in doing good by bringing in these mayoralties and devolving power, we should not allow others to undermine that good work by messing around with the health structures. Such changes should be slow, gradual and thought through, not rushed, but there is a danger that that is happening at this moment.

My Lords, the key issue that has come out of this debate is whether this new mayor and the combined authority will have the powers to make a fundamental difference. We all accept that we need it to be able to make a fundamental difference to level up and give the people of West Yorkshire the dynamic future that they need.

The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, put his finger on a key policy issue, to which we would welcome an answer from the Minister: why has the mayor not been given responsibility for strategic infrastructure? Given that the mayoral authorities are intended to be strategic and West Yorkshire needs a plan for the future, the absence of a power to plan strategic infrastructure is a gaping hole in this order.

That links directly to the point about HS2 made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lord Liddle. I suggest that HS2 is the single most important piece of infrastructure for the strategic future of West Yorkshire. If it happens, it will produce a transformation in connectivity, but there will be a real crisis from the comparative lack of connectivity if, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, HS2 goes to the north-west in the extension from Birmingham to Crewe and Manchester but does not go to the east Midlands and on to Sheffield and Leeds and continue into the north-east. That is hugely important for the area about which the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has spoken.

I am sure that the Minister, whom we hold in high regard, will repeat the words that have been repeated many times in both Houses about the eastern leg of HS2: that the Government are in principle committed to it, that they wish to see the benefits of HS2 shared with Yorkshire and the north-east, and that the integrated rail plan will be coming soon. We have heard all that before. The problem is that those things do not commit the Government to producing and progressing with the eastern leg of HS2 at all—because it could be delayed indefinitely—let alone on the same timescale as proposed for Crewe and Manchester.

Therefore, rather than get another recital of the brief, perhaps I may ask the Minister to take two specific points back to his right honourable friends the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, who will be the key decision-makers in this respect. The first is that the Government have now said that, because of delays due to Covid and logjams in the Department for Transport, the legislation to extend HS2 from Crewe to Manchester will be introduced not this year but next year. That means that there is now an opportunity to revert to the original plan for phase 2b of HS2 and put the whole of the eastern leg in it.

Secondly, will the Minister take back to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister the strong view of all local authority leaders in the east Midlands and Yorkshire, as well as Members of Parliament and of this House, that if we are going to have a high-speed line, 21st-century technology, for the western part of the country but leave the eastern part of the country still subject to Victorian technology, it would be the equivalent of our great Victorian forebears building the railways to go up to Birmingham and Manchester but leaving canals to serve Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds? As a strategic future for the country, that would be a disaster.

My Lords, I would add, on the railway system, that the new trans-Pennine link is as important as the eastern leg of HS2 and is particularly important for Bradford. I remind everyone that Leeds is now the biggest conurbation in Europe lacking a mass transit link.

I welcome the conclusion of this deal, but with qualifications. It provides West Yorkshire with some of the additional funds it needs. It builds on the constructive co-operation of the councils over the past 15 years. It provides for a spokesman for the region, in the shape of an elected mayor, but it does not fulfil the promise of the 2019 Conservative manifesto, which set out the aim of

“full devolution across England … so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny”.

The funds this deal provides are conditional, and in a number of separate packages, subject to continuing central oversight and partisan ministerial interference—slush funds, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said. The mayor will join other city mayors across England without any institutionalised structure for representing their concerns to Whitehall, as we have seen in ministerial resistance to intervention from existing mayors over recent months. I understand that some Conservative MPs are now opposed to devolution as such, and that a few may even oppose this order in the Commons tomorrow. In today’s Yorkshire Post, Philip Rycroft, formerly a senior official concerned with constitutional issues, called what the Government are proposing “a mess”.

We should have had a devolution White Paper by now, setting out the Government’s plans for the whole of England, as others have mentioned. Instead, we have had plans to parcel up bits of Whitehall departments and scatter them across the country, taking directions still from Whitehall. The commission on democracy that the manifesto promised has disappeared. This deal is not what councils in Yorkshire asked for. They wanted a Yorkshire regional authority. The Government are forcing city mayors on unwilling communities. A Populus poll last year showed 27% of voters in Yorkshire supported a full rollout of city mayors, while 31% preferred the established collective council model and 30% were not sure. That is hardly a vote of confidence.

Throughout this year, we watched the Government bypass local councils, giving generous contracts to consultancies and outsourcing companies to set up test and trace schemes while ignoring the local expertise and experience that councils possess. People in Yorkshire have noticed UK Ministers consulting the three devolved Administrations in detail while failing even to inform existing mayors and local councils of shifting plans for lockdowns for schools. There is, and the Minister must realise this, a growing consensus across England that we would be better governed if there were real devolution within England rather than detailed central control, with favoured deals for Conservative target seats from Cabinet Ministers.

So, I welcome this only as an interim arrangement. It transfers funds to West Yorkshire to improve transport, manage flood risk, support local business and improve adult education, but it is not enough. If this Conservative Government are to fulfil their promise to level up this country, as the Prime Minister regularly repeats, the centre will have to transfer substantial powers and financial autonomy to cities and regions outside the south-east. The Prime Minister waffles on about promoting the Anglo-Saxon model of democracy across the world, yet, around us, this country is moving towards a constitutional crisis. Our voters are increasingly disillusioned with all parties. Ministers are attempting to bully the Electoral Commission and to raise sharply the limit for campaign spending. The Prime Minister has misused the royal prerogative against Parliament and overridden the House of Lords Appointments Commission. Scotland and Northern Ireland are beginning to move away from the union. Against that challenge, this modest improvement in funds transferred to West Yorkshire, with a mayor whose voice is likely to count for little at the centre, deserves, at best, a lukewarm welcome.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the Grand Committee to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I am pleased that the order is before the Grand Committee today. It is progress in delivering another devolution deal, as the Government like to call them, but several issues need raising. I do not like this odd patchwork which the Government seem so keen on, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, will recall my many interventions in this regard. There is also the issue of where we go forward with this type of model in Yorkshire as a whole, and then there is the question of the powers and the small sums of money that accompany this type of arrangement.

But before I comment on any of that, I pay tribute to Mark Burns-Williamson OBE, the police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire. He will be standing down when his term comes to an end, as this deal transfers the office and powers of the police and crime commissioner to the new mayor of West Yorkshire. Mark has done an excellent job since his election as the PCC in 2012, and prior to that he served as the chair of the West Yorkshire Police Authority and as an elected councillor.

Looking at this model, I am not sure how much power is devolved, and it feels a lot like the powers that the former West Yorkshire County Council had prior to its abolition in 1986. That is not a view that only I have expressed; I saw that Michael Meadowcroft, the former Liberal MP for Leeds West, had the same view. I also think that at least 20 of the 22 authorities in Yorkshire have expressed support for the One Yorkshire model, which the Government will have to address at some point. This feels to me like a very temporary arrangement.

I am very much in support of proper devolution of power, and this is something the Government will have to focus on if they want to keep the United Kingdom intact. That means giving up power at the centre and giving it to the regions and nations that make up the United Kingdom, but I do not feel that they are ready to do that yet.

The sums of money on offer are also very small— £38 million is all that is actually on offer—and it will cause significant problems for whoever is elected as the first Mayor of West Yorkshire. I hope that it will be my honourable friend in the other place, Tracy Brabin—the Member for Batley and Spen who is the Labour and Co-operative candidate for West Yorkshire—but whoever is elected, I wish them well in this important role.

I agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, in looking forward to the leader of Leeds City Council, my friend councillor Judith Blake, joining the Labour Benches in the next few weeks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised important points about the consultation. Again, I have raised these points many times before. If you look at the number of people who engage in these consultations, they are small—I think it was 4,000 people, but 2.5 million people live in this area. These are very small numbers to gauge, and the Government must look better at how to get more consultation. As I said, all that is guaranteed is funding of £38 million a year.

The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and my noble friend Lord Adonis raised the issue of why the planning infrastructure powers have not been devolved, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, can give us a full response there. I also agree with the concerns raised by a number of noble Lords about the issue of HS2 and the eastern leg possibly being dropped or delayed. That would do immense damage. I lived for many years in the East Midlands, and the thought that the eastern part of our country will not get the same attention as the western part is, I think, of concern to many noble Lords.

My noble friend Lady Taylor of Bolton raised again the issue of the practicality of the elections and the count afterwards. I hope the noble Lord will take these points back to his colleagues in government and make some clear announcements urgently, because otherwise it risks another shambles, with last-minute panic changes. Thinking particularly about the count, that was a really important point my noble friend raised; I tabled some parliamentary Questions on these issues yesterday. We have to get this right, because there would be no point announcing these things if the elections are postponed at the last minute. Candidates, councils and returning officers need to know what is going on.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is right about the east-west connectivity in terms of Leeds and Bradford. They desperately need a mass transit system to deliver that.

In conclusion, it is good as far as it goes, and, in that sense, I will support the order before the Grand Committee today. However, major issues have been raised by a number of noble Lords which we need to look at as we move forward. This certainly cannot be seen as the end; it can only be the start of a process to level up our country.

My Lords, we have had a very constructive debate this evening involving thoughtful contributions from real experts—two former leaders of Sheffield City Council and a former leader of Kirklees Council. I will take the opportunity to respond to some of the points raised.

All I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, is that the English devolution and local recovery White Paper will come forward in due course, and I am sure that will be clarified. I accept his support and that of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for this devolution, and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who I think gave half a loaf of support. I also accept the lukewarm support of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy; that is better than no support at all.

Turning to an issue raised by my noble friend Lord Bourne and others, on 29 October 2020 the consultation on the Planning for the Future White Paper closed, having received 40,000 responses, which are currently being considered. Should legislation be required following consideration of these responses, we will look to bring that forward in the autumn.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, raised a number of issues about the difficulties of holding elections, which were also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The Prime Minister has been very clear that postponing elections needs a high bar. The legislation clearly provides for the elections to take place in May, and that remains the position, although it will be kept under review. Advice will be provided to returning officers to ensure that polling stations are safe and Covid secure for voting, and we are considering options to support voters who are instructed to self-isolate shortly before or on the day of the poll.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the approach and asked whether there are options. The approach was that of a consultation, and there were some 4,000 responses—the largest number to any combined authority consultation of this kind. In fact, the Consultation Institute gave a commendation of good practice to the combined authority that carried out the consultation.

I also point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that the London Assembly model is the only one that has a level of government above the level of councils with responsibility for asking questions of the mayor. What we have here is the norm: a combined authority where local government—the five councils, in this case—is hard-wired in with the mayor and the mayoral combined authority. That operates very successfully in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and all the other places where we have mayoral combined authorities. London is a unique model in having a tier of government that gets to ask questions of the mayor. Personally, I am not sure that that is the way to go.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, showed his strong support for single strategic authorities. It is well known that if you devolve clearly and effectively to a single decision-maker in the form of a mayor and they cover a functional economic area, that has huge benefits in driving the performance of a particular region—in this case, a city region. We continue to develop that. City region-type devolution now covers 41% of English residents, and that is a substantial figure to build upon.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the issue of adult education, which enables the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to develop the skills that local employers need, reducing skills shortages, boosting productivity and economic prosperity and improving well-being in communities.

I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that regional transport decisions are devolved to the mayor. It is not the case that we will ever see national infrastructure devolved, although strategic planning and the strategic infrastructure levy will begin to operate when the position on planning reform is clear. We are committed to phase 2b of High Speed 2 and I am happy to recommit to our commitment, if that will help in any way.

This order, which is widely welcomed by the people of West Yorkshire, is a significant development for the city region and will make a significant contribution to the future prosperity of West Yorkshire, enabling it to action vital economic recovery following this Covid-19 pandemic. I commend the order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.15 pm.